What a difference a month makes! In the early Winter sun of Round 8, The Exiles put on another performance to extend their unbeaten run to 3 games and earning back to back bonus point wins in the process.
Further players returned to action in Round 8, including the notable return of Jacob Butler to the squad following an extended period away from the squad following the loss of his father. It was a real bonus to see to see Jacob back with his friends and team mates, both in terms of his ability on the field and more importantly to have him back within the supporting structure of his club. Griff Whitson also returned from injury along with Ed Couzens at second row. The squad were without Ben West and Tom Williams, both picking up injuries against Bracknell in Round 7.
The match started pretty much as the previous round had ended, with Welsh scoring! Welsh kicked deep into the home side’s half from the KO, the ball was cleared and a quick line out to Daf Manley set Welsh away. Lima Savaiinaea made the break which Adam Nixon continued, before the ball went quickly across the backline for Sion Cowdy to outstrip his opposite man to score in the corner (his 6th try in 5 appearances). Manley missed the extras and Welsh led 5-0 after just 90 seconds!
Welsh continued to pressure and in truth dominated the opening exchanges with the home side barely making there way into the Welsh half for the first 20 minutes. Rhys Howells left the field after 3 minutes, but returned once patched up on 10 minutes.
Several extended visits to the Banbury 22 could, and possibly should, have seen Welsh further ahead in the first 20 minutes with Rhydian George and Lima Sava both going close. However, on the quarter Banbury had settled in to the game and on their first entry to the Welsh 22, they made it count through what was an organising and impressive backline. Successive penalties conceded by Welsh at the breakdown ended with an attacking line: although Banbury lost the line, they ball came back their way and they went wide with numbers to squeeze over in the corner with Quinten Blythe dotting down for the Try. The try concession also brought the end of the game for Rhys Howells, his early return to the field being short lived as a calf injury ended his day on 23 minutes.
Banbury were buoyed by their score and had a good period of pressure for the following 10 minutes. Welsh were stretched but kept the home side at arms length. The pressure was relieved eventually by an excel breakdown turnover and penalty, which Daf Manley kicked to perfection from his own 10m to the opposition 22m
With the resulting attacking lineout Welsh sent the handful that is Lima Savaiinaea straight up the middle and he caused havoc in the midfield defence. Lima offloaded to Rhydian George, who in turn sent Jacob Butler over for a Try on his return to the team. The conversion was missed and Welsh lead 10-5 after 30 minutes.
Matters got worse for Banbury off the restart as they went down to 14 men for 10 minutes as winger Radegonde was given a yellow card for a swinging arm. However, the card did not impact the home team as consecutive penalties took them into the Welsh 5m and defending their own try line. Welsh were adjudicated to have brought down the rolling maul illegally and the result was a penalty try and a yellow card for the Exiles 9, Adam Nixon. Welsh were down to 14 men and behind 12-10 on the scoreboard after 35 minutes.
Almost straight from the restart yet another yellow card was shown! A deliberate knock on from Banbury reduced their backrow by 1 and their number to 13, with three in the bin it was 13 vs 14 until half time. Welsh used the advantage Welsh from the resulting penalty and with Osian McAvoy and Sion Cowdy linking well to almost get over the line. A further penalty led to a 5m tap and go from lively number 8, and Wales u18, Ben Davies who added Welsh’s 3rd of the day. The missed conversion ended the half and Welsh led at the break 15-12. It was an enthralling 40 minutes and with 3 yellow cards, the game played at a frantic pace at times, with plenty of space available.
Welsh received the ball from the restart and Welsh looked keen to make their slender lead more secure. An outstanding break on 44 minutes from Jacob Butler almost brought the bonus point try. The game was very much in the balance at this stage and both sides looking like they could be the next to score. A vital interception from SIon Cowdy on the 49 the minute was a key eye opener for Welsh as they faced a determined attack on their own 5m line.
50 minutes heralded the arrival of Jack Burnett at hooker in place of Gareth Lewis. Banbury had a scrum on half way on 52 minutes and although on the defence, Osian McAvoy was about to make his usually timely contribution. McAvoy has scored 3 interception tries this season already, and so it was to become 4 on 54 minutes. Up quick into the Banbury attack McAvoy stole the ball to outstretch the defence and run in from half way under the posts. Manley added the extras and Welsh led 22 – 12 after 55 minutes, an important 2 score lead. Welsh had already secured a bonus point for 4 tries.
Banbury were not about to lay down though! They continued to push hard and had several chances headed to the 60 minute mark, missing touch at a point of real pressure for them and to the exiles relief.
It was 65 minutes on the clock before the next score, which really threw the game back into the mix. Chasing the game, Banbury were throwing caution to the wind, from a chip in the backline the ball bounced perfectly for the onrushing Banbury Wing Blythe who gathered to go over for his second, which was converted to make the score 22-19 to Welsh with 15 minutes remaining.
Welsh then conceded a penalty soon after the restart and a kick from half way put Banbury back into the Welsh 22 for an attacking line. To the further relief of the exiles, the lineout was knocked on and Welsh survived a tough period. This was to be the last real opportunity for Banbury to mount a challenge for the Win.
A well positioned Welsh clearance pinned Banbury in their 22 and good pressure forced the knock on and an attacking Welsh scrum. As has been the theme for this season so far, the Welsh backline proved too skilful and too strong for the opposition. Off the base Nixon sent a long pass straight to Lima Sava in the centre, a clever loop from Manley had him pick the ball up on the miss pass from Lima and a quick offload to Butler gave hi a race for the line, which he of course won! Welsh’s 5th try of the day was converted by Manley and Welsh were now two scores ahead with 9 minutes remaining 29-19. Rhydian George was replaced by Tom Thorpe on 72, the second row making his debut as the pack reshuffled.
Banbury now sensed the game had gone, but there was still the potential for a losing bonus point. To their credit Banbury kept the intensity high and showed good skill in close exchanges. However, chasing the game, they sealed their fate on 79 minutes as another attempted chip on this occasion landed straight with big Andy Black! The big prop showed quick thinking and good hands to send Sion Cowdy on his way, no one stops Cowdy in space and broken play! Cowdy went in for Welsh’s six of the day from 20 meters out, the try unconverted for a Welsh lead of 34-19.
Yet still Banbury had plenty of fight left in them! Their resilience paid off in the 88th minute (no one being quite sure why the game was still being played at this point!). With the game already won, Welsh were guilty of some sloppy tackling and defence out wide, allowing Banbury in again for a fourth try of the day out wide and a losing bonus point. The missed conversion ended the game with the scores at 34-24 to London Welsh.
This was another excellent display from the squad all-round, against another talented and well drilled side in the form of Banbury. That took the Exiles tally of points in the last 3 rounds, a 12 from the possible 15. A superb reaction from the squad and a substantial impact from the players returning to the squad.
There were several excellent performances once again, with Lima Savaiinaea being a typical handful, Sion Cowdy proving clinical as ever with ball in hand added to his tally and going 7 tries in 5 games this season. Jacob Butler was superb on his return and in the pack Rhydian George was an ever present nuisance at the breakdown and an unrelenting ball carrier. Player of the Match though went to the class performance put in by front rower Andy Black. An inspiring figure who has an uncompromising approach which made made him both strong at scrum time and his typical ball carrying self in open play- well done Andy!
Welsh return to Old Deer Park next week against last seasons top of the table friends Camberley. Welsh met Camberley for the first time last season in league rugby at senior level. Both games provided great entertainment with Welsh taking the bonus point win away, and Camberley inflicting the first loss at Old Deer Park for Welsh in over 4 years in the return fixture. No doubt this season will prove equally as enthralling, kick off will be at 2pm with the onset of British Winter.
Player of the Match: Andy Black
Tries: Jacob Butler x 2, Sion Cowdy x 2, Ben Davies and Osian McAvoy
Conversions: Dafydd Manley x 2