London Welsh made it back-to-back bonus-point victories to extend their winning start to the Greene King IPA Championship season to three games.
Victory over Plymouth Albion keeps the Exiles in second place in the table, just one point behind Rotherham, and sets up a mouth-watering clash next Saturday with the Titans at Clifton Lane.
Still learning about his squad, head coach Justin Burnell made nine changes and at times it showed, but the Exiles still had too much in their locker for Plymouth without ever truly finally top gear.
Gordon Ross continued his excellent form with the boot with another error free display in a 20-point haul, which took his goal kicking hot-steak to 20 consecutive kicks.
It was his boot together with Mike Denbee’s try that saw the Exiles take a 16-9 lead into the break after an error strewn first half, with Daniel Browne’s early second half try establishing a lead that Albion never looked like overhauling.
After running in four tries against Nottingham, Welsh then took advantage of the sinbinnings of Sean-Michael Stephen and Ien Ascroft-Leigh to make it consecutive bonus-point victories.
The visitors had actually struck first through a Dan Mugford penalty, but that only served to stir the Exiles in life. Ross levelled with Denbee then finishing off a fine Welsh move to claim the game’s opening try.
Tom May started the attack from deep inside the Welsh half, with Seb Stegmann threatening to go all the way. However, realising that the Albion cover was converging, the wingers back of the hand off load to Denbee left the path clear for the flanker to cross. Ross converted.
But the home side would struggle to build on that try. Crossing by Welsh, as they tried to run the ball out from their own 22, allowed Mugford to close the gap, and the Albion fly half might have reduced the lead further only to strike the post after Pale Nonu’s break.
Welsh settled for three points after a succession of phases eventually found Albion offside, but Chris Elder replied with a long range penalty from his own half.
That opportunity came from a scrum, but the Welsh pack reversed that moments later to allow Ross to split the uprights and see the Exiles take a seven-point lead into half-time.
Welsh emerged clearly intent on grabbing the game by the throat and putting it beyond their visitors. Ross’ floated pass found Stegmann and although May’s path to the tryline was blocked by white jerseys, his grubber kick took a favourable ricochet to give Welsh a lineout in the Albion 22.
The Exiles proceeded to set up camp just metres from the Plymouth tryline, twice turning down kickable penalties and backing their scrum. It was a passage of play that took on greater significance with every reset scrum - a try now would put clear daylight between the sides.
Had they left empty-handed the second half may have unfolded differently. They didn’t. Man of the match Daniel Browne eventually forced his way over from close range and Ross’ conversion saw the Exiles take a healthy 23-9 lead.
The powerful Nonu reminded Welsh of his threat with one scorching break, but it was the home side that extended their lead through Ross’ fourth penalty. Significant because it left Plymouth needed three scores.
Welsh now went in search of the two tries they needed for the bonus-point. Ross pushed a penalty into the corner with Stephen yellow carded for dangerous play at the lineout. The home side took immediate advantage in the scrum and referee Ross Campbell had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try. Ross converted.
It then went from bad to worse for Plymouth with Stephen joined in the sin bin by Ascroft-Leigh for a deliberate knock with Welsh just metres short of the line.
Despite the away side drafting two of their backs into the scrum, Welsh’s fourth try was somewhat inevitable and Stedman was left with the simplest of finishes. Ross’ conversion took his personal tally to 20 points.
Despite a far from a polished performance, Welsh were still good enough to rack up 40 points and cross for four tries. Rotherham next week should tell Welsh much about where they are.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Denbee, Daniel Browne, Penalty Try, Stedman; Cons: Ross (4); Pens: Ross (4).
Plymouth Albion scorers:
Pens: Mugford (2), Elder.
Referee: Ross Campbell
Referee Assistants: James Sullivan & Chris Sharpe