Welsh headed to King’s Rugby for Round 19 in the league knowing that nothing less than a bonus point win would likely be needed to keep them ahead of the chasing pack at the top of London 1. As we enter the business end of the season it is still all to play in what appears to be a 3 horse race for the title between Welsh, Camberley and Medway.
Welsh knew that KCS would be no walk in the park, especially in their own back yard. In the reverse fixture at Old Deer Park in Round 7, Welsh had been pushed hard by the visitors only to pull away in the second half.
Welsh went into the game with significant changes to the side as a long season takes its toll in injury terms; injuries being a key theme for the squad since the turn of the year. Welsh were without: 60 cap man Tom Baldwin, star centre Matt Pollen, try scoring machines in wingers Sion Cowdy and Tom Hunt, fly half Lloyd Davies, 1st XV Captain James Buncle, England age grade Griff Whitson, Andy May (all 3 from the front row), Jack Anderson, Tim Ross and Matt Williams (all from the back row); all missing through injury. In addition, Wales u21 centre Rhys Howells who was set to start, pulled up in the warm up and played no part in the game, replaced by Chris Lilly who himself was returning from injury. The squad was boosted by the first start for Jack Burnett at hooker in over 3 months as he returns from injury, the continued rehab return of club Captain Chris Lilly, the return of Ewan Gully to the centre and Jonny Miles making a spot on the bench as he plays his first rugby in 4 months since breaking his hand. Despite the above, Welsh have massive strength in depth and it is testimony to this that the side took to the field arguably just as strong but with some new threats and combinations. Jonathan Ilori making his second 1st XV start on the wing with the former GB athlete having impressed in Round 18 with a hatrick of tries on debut.
It was a momentous occasion for Andy Black in the front row as he hit the milestone of 50 caps.
Welsh started the game with confidence and kicking into a swirling wind immediately pressured KCS into a hurried restart clearance. Welsh used the ensuing possession to good effect and after a few driving phases returning hooker Jack Burnett crossed, Osian McAvoy adding the conversion for Welsh to lead 7-0 after 5 minutes.
Welsh had clearly turned up to do a job in Round 19 and continued their early pressure with plenty of ambition as a pack with early dominance sought to feed a pacey backline.it was though a moment of individual brilliance that led to the second Welsh try. KCS cleared their lines with a kick to the Welsh 10m line which was taken by fullback Jacob Butler (son of Welsh great Eddie) and one of the squads former Monmouth School contingent (our strategic schools partner).The fullback showed incredible strength, pace and tenacity to beat two initial defenders with speed, then to burst through a further two, before jinking and out stripping the cover defence to finish a solo try from fully 60m out. The dependable McAvoy added the extras and Welsh led 14-0 after 15 minutes.
16 minutes into the half though and Welsh fortunes changed: with KCS looking to stem the flow with some meaningful possession of their own, they spent some good time in the Welsh 22. As they spread it wide the ball found the finger tips of top try scorer Paolo Peschisolido and whether by luck or judgement the KCS attack was nullified. This intervention heralded a trip to the sin bin for the winger and Welsh were down to 14 for ten minutes; KCS were also awarded the penalty try to bring them within reach at 14-7 with 16m on the clock. Despite seeing out the sin bin without conceding further, this period had taken the momentum out of Welsh and provided KCS the opportunity to get a foothold in the game.
KCS were impressive in this period, especially in the backline. The break through for KCS came on the 36 minute mark as a break away ended with Felix Griffin diving over for a converted try (Leon driscoll with the extras). Welsh now very much had a game on their hands, which is not the position DoR Cai Griffths would have wished for at the half. However, that is indeed how matters ended after 40 minutes and Welsh disappeared to the changing rooms to mull over a good but frustrating first half.
Welsh began the second half like a team that had had a good talking to over half time oranges! Almost from the Kick Off Welsh were over for their third try of the day: the KCS restart was cleared by McAvoy and an excellent chase from Peschisolido allowed Ewan Gully to regather and he went on an allusive 40m run to dot down under the post for a McAvoy converted Try and 21-14 lead to Welsh.
It was this 3rd quarter that Welsh stepped through the gears and effectively put the game to bed as a contest. Although perhaps not at their best, Welsh have in recent weeks found the ability to move into 5th gear for key periods and that was the case here.
The Welsh pack were relatively dominant on the day with big performances from Andy Black.and Mike Griffiths (the latter in only his second game of the season after the birth of his first child). It was on 47 minutes that upfront dominace allowed scrum half Adam Nixon to dart over from close range and grab the Welsh Bonus Point try; this was unconverted for a 26-14 lead.
Welsh continued their dominance with the pack proving too much for KCS in close play, talismanic stand out players Rohan Pixley and Ben West to the fore. The game was put to bed as a contest on 58 minutes with Andy Black crashing over after 10 phases, from close range. This was a fitting tribute for the big front rower who notched up his 5th try of the season on his 50th cap. McAvoys conversion made the score 33-14 to Welsh.
Adan Cole and Jonny Miles entered proceedings on 62 minutes as Welsh emptied the bench; both players seeing their first 1st XV action in some many months.
It was on 68 minutes that Welsh put some icing in the cake with their 6th try of the day. In a game that had by now opened up to become an end to end affair, centre Ewan Gully (who was exceptional on the day) picked a great line from 10m out to eventually crash over for his second, which McAvoy duly converted for a 10 point total haul.
The remainder of the game was entertaining and fast flowing, KCS showing intent and skill to the end in a match that never totally got away from them. The game ending with the scoreline of 40-14.
This was a relatively routine win for Welsh in a game that they controlled but never managed to totally dominate. However, with so many injuries this was perhaps more impressive a win than initially meets the eye.
Absolute credit to KCS who had some very strong elements to their game and at the half had given their visitors some real concern. The surroundings at KCS were also very welcoming with an excellent ground and facilities, friendly welcoming support and a well stocked spacious club bar.
Welsh move on to two rest weekends before the crunch game of the remaining rounds away at 3rd placed Medway. Welsh will welcome this break and a chance to tend to the walking wounded. Unfortunately, hooker Jack Burnett in only his second game back from 3 months of injury, picked up a broken hand for his efforts that may well herald the end of his season.
Welsh Player of the Match went to the excellent Ewan Gully in the centre. His two tries were a credit to his pace and physicality as the centre looks to assert himself in what is a hotly contested position within the Performance Sqaud. There were stand out performances also from Ben West, Rohan Pixley, Mike Griffiths and a mention simply for ‘that try’ from Jacob Butler.
Scorers: Jack Burnett, Jacob Butler, Ewan Gully x2, Andy Black, Adam Nixon.
Conversions: Osian McAvoy x 10