A wet and blustery ODP greeted Farnham in front of a depleted crowd of 347; numbers heavily impacted by the weather and the cancellation of public transport.
It is fair to say that this fixture also heralded by far the coldest and most challenging playing environment of the season so far. A bitterly cold day with a swirling and driving wind made conditions very difficult for both sides (and those brave supporters that have dared to take on the elements!). The conditions naturally took a toll on some of the quality in play and this was evident in the first half.
The Farnham faithful arrived at ODP with memories of a 2019 upset when Farnham toppled Welsh in a cup match; it was clear during the pre match lunch that Farnham hopes were high.
Welsh welcomed Welsh u20 International Rhys Howells back to action following injury and Jacob Butler also returned from injury to make his home debut at ODP. Welsh had lost stalwart Tom Baldwin the night before KO to a positive Covid 19 test. However, this provided an opportunity for new signing 6’8 giant Ed Couzens; Ed joining this week from Llanelli RFC in the Welsh Premiership. Welsh had also tinkered with the now relatively settled side as Osian McAvoy moved to 10 with Lloyd Davies taking a seat on the bench. The match also heralded the return of front rower and BUCS Super Rugby Winner Griff Whitson from injury, who also took a seat on the bench. The match came too early for some major performance squad members as former Premiership man Ben West, stand in Captain Tom Williams, 1st XV regular Captain Chris Lilly, Welsh 7s International Luke Crocker and Hooker Jack Burnett all missed out through injury. Matt Pollen (arguably the stand out back of the season so far) was also unavailable for the match. Despite the missing players Welsh were again very strong for this round 11 match.
Come kick off time Farnham did not disappoint in their pre match optimism. Despite early pressure from Welsh, handling in the bitter cold proved difficult as many chances went begging due to poor execution.
Farnham were first to put some phases together and on 23 minutes with the scores still at 0-0 they opened their account with Gabe Hills diving over in the corner following a decisive counter attack. The conversion was missed in the wind and Farnham led 5-0.
However, Welsh still looked dominant in set piece and open play and were not phased by going behind. Welsh were camped in the Farnham 22 for large periods in the first half but their lineout suffered in the strong deceptive wind and several key attacking lineouts could not be landed; each relieving the pressure for Farnham.
As Welsh grew in to the game the pressure started to tell: on 28 minites the visitors were down to fourteen men after their full back was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on just as flying Winger Tom Hunt looked to be clear to the line.
Shortly afterwards on the half hour mark, Welsh got their first try of the match through debutant, and man of the match, Jacob Butler. Deep in their 22, a Farnham clearance found Butler on the ten metre mark. Butler steamed into the swirling high ball and hit an exceptional line taking the ball cleanly out of the air despite the conditions. The work was all done in the take and the line that had been hit, this simply left a canter in from 30m out. This truly was an exceptional finish from Butler. Osian McAvoy added the conversion to give Welsh the lead at 7-5 with 10 minutes left in the first half.
With Farnham back up to 15 men Welsh now had the bit between their teeth and had warmed up the hands! On the brink of half time, the Exiles scored their second try of the match through Tom Hunt. A quick tapped penalty on the half way line led to a break away into Farnham’s 22 and some excellent running for a big man from second row Will Ponty. After a series of phases, the ball was spread out wide for Tom who scored in the corner. Tom had plenty to do still in having the last defender to round and the cover defence to outpace. This score took Tom to joint top try scorer for the season with 5 tries (now shared by three players- Hunt, Sion Cowdy and Paolo Peschisolido). With the conversion added, Welsh had a half time lead of 14-5.
Welsh began the second half in the same manner that they had ended the first, scoring a try just minutes into the second half through captain James Buncle. It was clear that strong words had been had with Director of Rugby Cai Griffiths at the half. After winning a penalty and going for touch. The Welsh maul was simply too much for the opposition, and led to the big Norwegian International crashing over; the score also brought up Welsh’s 50th try of the 21/22 season. With the conversion missed, Welsh had a fourteen point lead at 19-5.
The visitors responded quickly though and on 50 minutes mustered their second try, through winger Sam Thomas who scored in the corner. A momentary lapse in the Welsh front line defence had parted the waves around the fringes and on the back foot Welsh were then out numbered out wide. The conversion was missed to make it 22-10. This proved a frustrating score as Welsh were on top of the game at this stage and although comfortable could not seem to break the Farnham determination.
Welsh stuck to the task though and increasing dominance in possession led to the bonus point try shortly afterwards. On the 60 minute mark a quick line out led to a good carry from Osian McAvoy who had switched from outside half to fullback. After a few phases, the ball found flanker Rohan Pixley who carried well and fell just short of the try line. Pixley proved a severe threat throughout the game and as has been the case for the last couple of seasons, his ability to break the line and evade would be tacklers, gave Welsh excellent advantage. The score actually came from Rhys Howells in the centre after he reacted quickest and picked up the ball from Pixley to power through the last defenders and dive over the line. This score was Rhys’s 28th league score for Welsh, a land mark that took him to 4th in the all time London Welsh try scorering record charts. Rather fittingly the main guest for the pre match lunch was former Welsh favourite and England International Paul Sampson, who leads the all time Welsh try scoring charts with 44. He looked on as Rhys crossed the line. The conversion was missed to make the score 27-10.
Five minutes before full time, the home side scored their fifth, and final try of the contest. From a penalty won by Welsh deep in their opponents 22, they chose to go for a scrum, which had been relatively dominant. Scrum half Adam Nixon picked and drove and was just short of the try line. Number eight, Matt Williams, in a manner very similar to Howells’ try just minutes before, picked up the ball from the ruck and managed to break over the white line, and with the conversion added, London Welsh had a full time score of 34-10.
This proved to be a frustrating game for Welsh who looked to cut loose on several occasions but struggled to put a determined Farnham side to bed. Despite the weather, the fact also remained that Farnham were a good outfit who certainly looked a long distance better than their lowly league position of second bottom. Farnham were well drilled and put some great play together; there have been very few sides in the last 5 years that have held Welsh to zero for a quarter of the match and indeed to be very much in the game at half time. It goes without saying that no side in this league should take Farnham lightly and we suspect that they will pull away from the bottom of the league as the season progresses.
The above said this was ultimately a comfortable win for Welsh and with a number of key players remaining on the sidelines. The bonus point win made it 10 from 10 this season for Welsh, 8 of those wins coming with the bonus point.
There were stand out performances from Rohan Pixley (almost inevitably), Will Ponty, Jack Anderson and the in form Sion Cowdy who ran hard all day. However, it was Jacob Butler at 15 that took the Player of the Match honours. Jacob (son of Father Eddie) was calm and controlled all day at the back and proved clinical from the boot and with ball in hand. Paul Sampson was very impressed by the young outside back and his excellent try will be the take away memory for many from the day. The fact that Jacob has only made 3 previous league Appearances this season stands as testimony to the quality and strength in depth through the Performance Squad.
Welsh now look to nurse further players back to fitness as an away trip to mid table Guildford RFC is up next in Round 12.
Tries: Tom Hunt, James Buncle, Rhys Howells, Jacob Butler and Matt Williams
Pen: McAvoy x 1
Conv: McAvoy x 3
London Welsh 34
The weekend break from league action was most welcome after the hard-fought win at Hammersmith & Fulham, with a much depleted squad; but it’s always good to be back at ODP and to offer Farnham another warm welcome.
We don’t have to delve too far back to find the last meeting of our two clubs. In October 2019 Farnham travelled to Old Deer Park for a cup game and left with the win and progression to the next round. The first half had looked likely to remain scoreless until Farnham slotted over a penalty in the closing minutes. In the second half they added 15 further points until Michael Griffiths went over for a try to reduce the deficit slightly. No more points were added in the final 10 minutes and the game finished 5-18 in Farnham’s favour.
The London Welsh team that day will be much changed this coming weekend as the 2019 side featured just three regulars from our current season – Tom Baldwin, Andrew Black and Jack Burnett, all having made league starts this season.
The break week has also summoned the timely return from injury of several key players: regular stand in captain (in the long terms absence of 1st XV Captain Chris Lilly) Tom Williams makes a return from a hamstring injury, Swansea University alumni trio Jack Anderson, Will Ponty and Ewan Gully all return from absence in Round 10, long term injury and Wales u19 International Rhys Howells returns after a successfull foot operation, England Students and former Newport Gwent Dragons man Griff Whitson is also in contention for a return. The squad is also bolstered by the signing of 6’8, 125kg Second Row Ed Couzens from Llanelli RFC in the Welsh Premiership (a fourth member of the performance squad to come via the Swansea University partnership route, and an Ospreys Academy product) we are excited to see Ed in action. The game does come too soon though for a number of performance squad members: Ben West, Ollie Fulljames, Jonny Miles, Elliott Hopkin and 1st Captain Chris Lilly all remain on the sidelines. In addition regular starting hooker Jack Burnett will be subject to a late fitness test and in form centre Matt Pollen will definitely miss round 11.
The squad is though returning slowly to full strength and will feature the lightning back 3 of Tom Hunt, Sion Cowdy and Paolo Peschisolido, who between them have scored 8 tries in the last 3 rounds alone.
Farnham were promoted from London 2 South West at the end of the 2019/20 season having won 14 of their 18 games and topped the league when the season came to a halt. The RFU calculator was then brought into play for the final league placings and determined that Battersea Ironsides would end up as Champions with Farnham just a single league point behind.
Formed in 1975, Farnham had never previously risen above London 2 level but in May 2017 won the RFU Senior Vase at Twickenham with a resounding 37-15 defeat of Droitwich. Their strong mini and youth section provided the starting point for ex-England internationals Jonny Wilkinson and Peter Richards.
The step up has proved challenging for Farnham with one win (50-20 against London Irish) and one draw (20-20 the following week against Guildford) from their nine matches so far. Four bonus points gives Farnham 10 points, placing them second from bottom and nine points clear of London Cornish. As there is no relegation this season the pressure is off the lower placed teams but pride will continue to push them all on and no doubt they will have memories of 2019 at Old Deer Park; despite the much changed London Welsh side that they will now face.
The lure of one of the three promotion places continues to drive the London Welsh squad to more assured performances each week and this couldn’t have been more clearly demonstrated than at Hammersmith & Fulham. Two Sion Cowdy tries and one each for Tom Hunt, James Buncle and Rowan Pixley kept Welsh in the lead despite a determined rally from the home team, securing another bonus point win. Hammersmith & Fulham became oy the second club side this season to take any league points from a match against London Welsh as they finished with four tries and within seven points (2 bonus points).
Kick off on Saturday is at 2pm. The various club bars will be open from 10.30, hot food available and admission is FREE!
To be involved in the full match day experience at London Welsh you can book in for the pre match lunch event here https://www.londonwelshrfc.com/events-list/
|November 27, 2021||2:00 pm||London 1 South||2021/22||80'|
|Old Deer Park|
|Oxenhouse Lane, Kew, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London, Greater London, England, TW9 2AS, United Kingdom|
|London Welsh 1st XV||0||34|