Welsh continued their build up to the 2022/23 league season with another testing away fixture; this weekend at National 1 outfit RAMS.
RAMS were promoted to National 1 after the 18/19 season and finished no less than 2nd in the English third tier in their maiden season at that level. Last term proved more challenging but a very respectable sixth place was still comfortably secured.
Welsh entered the match having been on the wrong side of a heavy score line the previous weekend against a very strong Welsh Premiership Pontypridd RFC side.
However, two key factors assisted Welsh in Pre Season Game 2: Welsh took a mixed team selected from the performance squad as a whole meaning that a number of Druids 2nd XV players were given their opporunity and Welsh had a squad of 28 (as opposed to a squad of 20 the previous weekend against Pontys cast of over 50 players, all of whom were excellent). In addition, the squad was bolstered by the return of some key players: Number 8 Jack Anderson, number 1 Myles Keane, second rows Will Ponty and Ben Watts and Full Back Jacob Butler all returned. Last seasons player of the season (in fact last 2 seasons) Rohan Pixley had been scheduled to make his first outing of Pre Season but he was ruled out on the morning of the game. Welsh were still without 15 front line 1st XV players as many push to be ready for the first league game.
Players also not featuring included: Adam Nixon (recovering from surgery), Rohan Pixley (as above), Tom Williams (back strain), Tom Baldwin (knee), Ewan Gully (ankle), Paolo Peschisolido (HIA), Sam Perry (leg), Jonathan Ilori (hamstring). In addition the following were unavailable: Ben Davies, Jack Burnett, Sion Cowdy (7s duty), last years 1st XV Captain James Buncle, Rhys Howells, Andy Black, Ben West, Daf Manley and star centre Matt Pollen. Griff Whitson was also unavailable to meet his former club (Griff featured in the RAMS 18/19 league campaign).
Despite the continued absentees Welsh were notably stronger and a week further on in preparation than for the Ponty game.
The difference showed immediately come kick off time. Welsh had clearly arrived in Reading with the intent to compete.
Welsh kicked to RAMS to get the game under way and with another former RAM Osian McAvoy doing the honours for Welsh. RAMS handed early momentum to Welsh by knocking on straight from the KO and there was some exceptional early pressure from Welsh with the pack looking more than a match for their Nat 1 opponents. New signing from South Africa (via the Ospreys) Kaid O’Neill at tight head prop looks to be an excellent acquisition as he caused all sorts of difficulty for the RAMS scrum in early exchanges.
Despite early pressure Welsh could not make the possession and territory count and would then be hit by the clinical instincts of their higher league opposition.
On 12 minutes a lapse in concentration in the Welsh 22 allowed RAMS no.9 Ollie Cole (last seasons players player of the year for our hosts) to tap quickly and sprint to the line. Alex Seers added the extras to make it 7-0 after 15 minutes.
RAMS rallied after the opening score and began to assert themselves on the game. The period between the opening score and 30 minutes was a tough time for Welsh as RAMS exerted sustained pressure.
Excellent and resolute Welsh defence held strong with Rhydian George at 7 for Welsh proving a nuisance in close exchanges. Welsh resolve was broken on 30 minutes as the pack drove over following several phases, big RAMS front rower Terrel Harry dotting down with Seers again converting.
The second score proved a galvanising one for Welsh as they powered back in the final 10 minutes of the half.
With McAvoy giving Welsh field position an impressive scrum and lineout put RAMS under real pressure. The new scrum pairing of Kaid On’Neill and Myles Keen looks to be a daunting one with RAMS being over powered on several occasions in this period. In fact it was Myles Keane who opened the Welsh account on 35 mins following a dart blind from the back of a maul by scrum half James Smith, before quick hands from Jack Anderson and McAvoy found the prop out wide, who squeezed in for his try on debut.
The Welsh faithful did not have to wait long for their second of the day! RAMS failed to clear from the restart and were penalised for holding on. The lineout went to the corner and a powerful surge from the yet again impressive Welsh pack ended with another front row club try as Kaid Oneill emerged from bottom of the bodies. McAvoy struck an excellent conversion from the touchline and the score at the half stood at RAMS 14 Welsh 12.
RAMS changed almost the entire pack at the half and the fresh legs paid dividends at the beginning of the second half.
Although not about the scoreline, the game was effectively won in the 10 minute period following half time. Two further lapses of Welsh concentration at key moments led to two quick tries, one in close play as Andy Amor crossed the white wash and secondly from speedy winger (impressive in the RAMS Nat 1 campaign last season) Henry Bird who capitalised on a Welsh knock on; Seers converted both efforts for RAMS to lead 28-12 after 55 minutes.
Welsh showed great resilience and on 62 minutes hit back with a try from Jack Anderson who stretched to dot down an unconverted try; Welsh still looking more than a match up front. RAMS 28 Welsh 17
The game was put to bed by Scott Harman on 68 minutes as the RAMS class and experience shone through in the closing stages. A break outside from a further Welsh loss of possession in open play brought this RAMS fifth and final converted try.
Final Score: RAMS 35 WELSH 17
This was a muc improved performance from the previous week and as the season momentum builds. It was good to see further players return to action for the squad and to see some impressive new signings open their accounts. Perhaps it is also pleasing to see Welsh hold their own with higher league opposition and with still over 15 1st XVs players absent from duty.
RAMS have an excellent set up at Old Bath Road and are clearly an impressive outfit with some substantial talent. We thank RAMS for the challenge and the hospitality, we wish them all the very best for the National 1 Campaign this season.
Welsh move on to their final preseason fixture against Ealing Academy away at Brunel University next weekend (27th). DoR Cai Grffiths is confident that the majority of the remaining squad will be fit and returning for that final match which will further boost the starting squad as eyes rapidly turn to the opening league fixture on 3 September away at Maidenhead.