London Welsh make it three wins from three
London Welsh 1st XV secure a hard fought away win
It was back on the road for London Welsh 1st XV on Saturday as they travelled to Hendon RFC for their third league game of the season. Welsh were looking to extend their winning start to the season and despite a number of players still sidelined with injury, fielded a strong team.
The game kicked off under good conditions and with a talented London Welsh back line looking to spread the ball. The first 20 minutes of the game was spent almost entirely in the Hendon half with impressive close play from Sam Mahoney in the Welsh front row and some big carries and skilful offloads by back-row pairing Andy Steptoe and Owen Sweeney.
However, Welsh were guilty of some poor execution whilst camped in the Hendon 22 and it was only after 20 minutes that the deadlock was broken. There had been some fine kick returns from Welsh fullback Simon Davies as Hendon looked to release pressure and it was a clearance kick that lead to the first score for London Welsh.
Cambridge Blue Simon Davies taking the ball at Fullback, and after gaining some metres released Jonathan Shankland on the left wing who offloaded to centre Ben Francis who provided the final scoring pass to right wing Will Davies to score under the posts. A great piece of counter attacking rugby from the Welsh back line. Fly Half Lloyd Davies adding the conversion.
Welsh were now on the front foot, although Hendon defended resolutely, consistent pressure, built on a dominant scrum and a sound line-out paid dividends. With a second try coming after a half break from centre Ben Francis and some good build up work from Fly Half (& Captain) Lloyd Davies. The forwards then rolled on through the phases and ended with a barn-storming five meter burst from prop Sam Mahoney who crashed over taking 3 Hendon players with him. Lloyd Davies again adding the extras for a 14-0 score line after 30 minutes.
Hendon finding their feet came back into the game with some strong sniping on the blind side and some good tactical kicking to pin Welsh back in their own half. Hendon came close to breaking the Welsh line and without some resolute last ditch tackling from flanker Owen Sweeney would have scored.
The half ended with London Welsh fourteen points to the good, but the team had not made the most of their first half dominance.
The second half would prove to be a lot tougher for Welsh playing against a significant gradient in the pitch. Hendon started with a determination and seemed lifted in the knowledge of their downhill advantage.
However, it was Welsh that started the second half scoring after a fine catch and drive from the pack and a centre Ben Francis broke close to the line to score for an unconverted try and 19-0 on 50 minutes.
The next 20 minutes belonged to Hendon who capitalised on poor Welsh discipline around the fringes to pin Welsh deep into their 22, and two tries followed. Good phase play lead to the powerful back row crossing the Welsh line on both occasions. With the score line now reading 19-14 Welsh now faced a resurgent Hendon in a game that they had dominated but failed to close out. To compound matters Welsh were down to 14 men after the sin-binning of replacement scrum half Alex Hall for illegal entry at the breakdown in the red zone.
However, it was Welsh who finished strongest. Lloyd Davies kicked Welsh back into Hendon territory. Winning a line out on the opposition 22, and marshalled by Cai Griffiths (on from the bench), Welsh marched towards the Hendon line looking for the important bonus point fourth try. With Alex Hall back on the field his dart found Lloyd Davies who put in his trade mark hitch kick and two deceptive steps followed by an audacious 'out the back' offload to find centre Rhys Howells who ran in from 5 metres to claim the try.
A good bonus point win for Welsh at a difficult away fixture, with competition for places becoming rife, and growing week on week. There were certainly lessons learned. Much credit goes to a strong Hendon team that showed real character in the second half, and played to their strengths. The club house after the game also stood to show what a welcoming community team Hendon are and we look forward to welcoming the team and their supporters to Old Deer Park for he return fixture in the New Year.
Man of the match was a tough choice: with strong performances from the front row, Andy Steptoe at No8, Ben Francis running hard. However, it was returning fullback Simon Davies who claimed the pedestal after some good counter attacking running and calm composure under the Hendon kick and chase game – congratulations to Simon.
London Welsh are on the road again next weekend as they face USC Old Boys away. Thanks again to a strong travelling support from the London Welsh supporters.