London Welsh kicked off the 2019/20 season with a visit to Battersea Ironsides, with a previous meeting in the bank last year in the Cup.
With much of last year’s squad returned and available, Welsh were able to choose from a handsome amount of players, with two new recruits on the bench as well.
The game started with Battersea regaining the ball and forcing Welsh into a ten minute period of defence on their own line. The line held firm and showed that any scores today would be well earned, as big tackles became a recurring image.
Unfortunately, a facial injury to starting loosehead Alice brought a lengthy break to the game, as Welsh’s forwards began dominating in the set pieces, including a 20m walking maul. Serena came on for an early debut to join the scrums, and held herself in good stance.
As the game progressed into the second 20 minutes, the heat and pace of the game was taking a toll on both teams, with more stoppages and penalties coming into the game. Welsh found themselves on the wrong side of the whistle too often, and gifted the Ironsides good field position to open the scoring out wide (5-0).
From the kick off, Welsh again held firm and recovered the ball and moved down field with great running lines from Coops and Jo, with Ruth adding clear structure to the play. However, as would become a repeat problem during the game, Ironsides were very quick at finding the right time to attack the ruck and steal Welsh ball. Repeat penalties again put Welsh on the back foot, allowing strong Ironsides carries to move forward. Despite multiple thunderous cover tackles from Beth, Kat, Jo and Fred, Battersea again moved the ball out of the tackle and scored. (10-0)
Frustrations began to set in as Welsh tried to lift their aggression and play looser, leading to another penalty turnover and with Welsh still preparing to attack, Battersea took their opportunity to run from deep down the left wing and finish with a converted score under the posts. This leaving the score 17-0 at half- time.
The second half began similar to the first, but with the heat and fatigue taking control, Welsh began missing the odd first up tackles, only being saved by Fred at full back making stupendous cover tackles, forcing turnovers and repelling Ironsides momentum. Eimear took the game by the scruff and not only made breaks across the pitch but also huge hits in defence.
Again though, Welsh infringed far too often, allowing Battersea free roam inside their 22, and after 15 minutes of solid defence, an overlap was found out wide and brought in Battersea’s 4th try (22-0).
Welsh lifted their energy and doubled down in their carrying efforts, with Hannah, Nat and Zoë bumping off would be tacklers for fun. The line out functioned well, with Jenni and Lou getting their connection right and putting Battersea under pressure on their own line, but their defence to halted any Welsh momentum. Once more, penalties at the breakdown were Welsh’s undoing.
As the play became open and expansive, another Battersea break allowed them to build good pressure and score the bonus point try with ten minutes left of play. With new subs on, Helena Potts returning and new recruit Anita, the energy was lifted and Welsh began to take control of the game. Multiple phases between forward carries and Ali controlling the backs prior to a late tackle taking her off, built an overlap on the right, and gave Anita space to bounce off the defence and score Welsh’s first try of the season.
With five minutes remaining, Welsh were unlucky to not score further points as they began to find their footing and worry Ironsides, finding holes on many chances but being called back for prior infringements, with the line beckoning, or with missed opportunities.
The final score 27-5 was a fair result, with Welsh having had positive moments shaded by repetitive errors and missed chances. A stepping stone and learning curve to manage, as we return home to Fortress ODP for a first local derby, against Barnes.