London Welsh continued their winning start to the season in an enthralling, top of the table clash against Medway, with a 33-16 victory for the Exiles at Old Deer Park. This was of course a much anticipated fixture with both sides having a clean unbeaten record entering the Round 8 match.
It was also a poignant day for the club with the reveal of the new World War One memorial plaque and accompanying service; we were joined by the Welsh Guards battalion representatives and the Mayor of Richmond in remembrance.
Welsh entered the game with somewhat of a front row mini crisis, 5 of the performance front row squad out injured (Griff Whitson shoulder, Ollie Fulljames calf, Jonny Miles broken finger, James Buncle hamstring Sam Mahoney unavailable). However, Matt Oakes was on hand for his 1st XV debut (and indeed acquitted himself well on the day). Welsh were also without longer term absentees in Ireland u20 and Club Captain Chris Lilly (hamstring), stand in captain and Wales 7s man Luke Crocker (shoulder) and Tom Baldwin (concussion). Welsh were also without Rohan Pixley the Australian number 7 for the first time this season. Despite the changes the squad remained a very strong one and Tom Williams once again took over the captains duty.
The visitors got off to an early lead, scoring a penalty within the first two minutes of the match and doing little to settle the 600 strong London Welsh crowd.
However, it did not take long for Welsh to get into their stride and three minutes later, Welsh responded with their first try, through Tom Williams. The home side won a penalty and kicked for touch; from the line out, a pick and drive from a maul led to a series of phases that were initially defended well by Medway just outside the try line. However, Welsh’s pressure proved too much for the visitors as Williams scored under the posts. Lloyd Davies added the extras. 7-3.
Welsh had three more opportunities to score over the following 20 minutes and were largely camped in the besieged Medway 22, but all efforts were well defended by Medway, Welsh suffering from the new rules on attacking mauls held up over the try line, with 3 Medway drop outs from under their posts in this period!
In the 22nd minute Welsh did get their second try through Sion Cowdy. From the last of the goal line drop outs, Welsh attacked quickly. After a few phases, the ball found the winger, who thanks to some brilliant footwork scored under the posts, in what was a brilliant solo effort. With the conversion added, Welsh had a 14-3 lead.
On the brink of half time, the home side scored their third try through Matt Williams. After defending well against the visitors to force them back to their 22, Medway kicked the ball to midfield. Welsh countered and spread the ball wide for the flanker after good vision from Ben West unusually finding himself in the stand off position. Matt (also unusually) found himself out wide on the wing and one on one with the Medway winger with 40 meters to the line. Matt took on the break away after brushing aside his defender. Matt carried for the full 40 meters and beat a further 2 defenders with good pace for a flanker and a devilishly strong hand off or two! Davies missed the extras to give London Welsh a half time score of 19-3.
Early in the second half, Medway had two opportunities to score from penalties, but despite missing their first attempt, the visitors made sure that their second was converted to make the score 19-6; a score that at that stage seemed a lot closer than the run of the game.
13 minutes into the second half however, the Exiles got their bonus point try. Deep in their 22, Medway kicked the ball to the halfway line. Welsh full back, Tom Hunt caught it and countered, and passed the ball to Sion Cowdy. He brilliantly stepped past two defenders, in Shane Williams-esque fashion to score under the posts. His second cracker of the day! Davies added the extras. 26-6.
Medway however, did respond with a try of their own, in the corner, thanks to a brilliant bit of pace from their own winger. They missed the conversion to give Welsh a 15 point lead.
Welsh extended their lead minutes later through Andy Black. A Welsh line out in the 22 led to a series of phases. The prop forward picked up the ball from a ruck, and somehow managed to muscle his way over the white line. Davies’ conversion made it 33-11.
Just before full time, the visitors got their second try of the contest. A dominant scrum for Medway, as had been all game, five metres out from the try line saw, their scrum half pick up the ball and dive over the line. A missed conversion made the final score 33-16 in favour of Welsh.
This was an all round dominant performance by Welsh in a comfortable win. It has been clear from the sidelines over the past 2 matches that Welsh have found their rhythm and are playing with deserved confidence. Medway were very strong on the day but did not manage to challenge Welsh in any aspect other than scrum time; something that we are sure they will look to rectify in the return leg.
There were stand out performances from Tom Williams before leaving the field injured, Matt Pollen and Matt Williams also giving excellent all round displays. Ben West as ever showed his quality from years of Premiership and Championship experience and Jack Burnett was also lively. However, Player of the Match went to the outstanding performance of Sion Cowdy on the right wing. The 6’5 rangey winger scored twice and proved a level above all others on the day.
Welsh visit local rivals next Saturday for a 1st XV and Druids 2nd XV double header. Welsh will have some returning players in the front row for the match, one being James Buncle returning from injury and international duty. Rohan pixley will also return to action.
Scorers: Tom Williams, Sion Cowdy x2, Andy Black, Matt Williams
Con: Lloyd Davies x 4