It had been a year and a half since we last all gathered at ODP for a league game but by the time the players took the field it felt as if we’d never been away from our Saturday afternoon home. The match was preceded by a minute’s silence to remember those that had passed away during the long break and many glasses were raised in their memory throughout the afternoon and evening.
Director of Rugby Cai Griffiths used the match to ring the changes and test new combinations with seven players making their league debuts and 12 changes in total from last week’s win at Irish as many players were rested.
London Welsh got the game underway and early Cornish errors handed the home team the first scrum and then the first penalty of the match. A well taken lineout gave the Welsh pack a drive to the line but the visitors defended well, held the ball up and restarted with a drop out from the try line – one of the law revisions introduced this season.
Welsh plans took a blow after five minutes when an injury picked up in the warm-up forced team captain James Buncle from the pitch, Chris Leno-Carter coming on for his league debut.
London Welsh kept play in the Cornish half and their third penalty kick to the corner of the game brought the first points. The forwards closed in on the line and when their efforts came to a halt the ball was moved out to the backs for Paolo Peschisolido to scamper over for the try, Dylan Casella added the conversion for a 7-0 lead after 12 minutes.
A promising move from the lineout put Cornish under pressure again with Matthew Williams and then Rhys Howells having a run at their defence. A penalty against Welsh allowed Cornish to clear upfield and a further penalty on the twenty minute mark was turned into three points by Dan Phoenix.
A good run by fullback Tom Hunt from just inside the Cornish half put Welsh on the front foot again with a penalty kick to touch and subsequent lineout giving the platform for another attack down the middle of the pitch. Two huge efforts by the pack created enough room for Tom Baldwin to score and Casella’s second conversion briefly extended the lead to 11 points.
Cornish countered from the restart and immediately clawed back some of the deficit. A Welsh kick was charged down for Matthew Hakes to gather and score. The conversion took the score to 14-10 and created a tense final 20 minutes of the half.
Welsh errors and strong Cornish defence ensured no change in the score until just before the half time break. A penalty kick and lineout again gave Welsh the possession and territory to challenge the Cornish line and Ben Watts had the ball in hand to touch down. Casella’s conversion was successful and Welsh led 21-10 at half time.
The visitors had the first chance to open the scoring in the second half. A high tackle by Welsh gave them a shot at the posts but the kick drifted wide. Ten minutes into the half and the much-changed Welsh team were finally working well together and taking control of the game. Rhys Howells enjoyed another run, Tom Hunt was in support to take the pass and then moved it on to Osian McAvoy, a blood replacement for Peschisolido, to take the bonus point try. The conversion was missed. The return of Peschisolido saw the coaches shuffle the backline again with Casella leaving the field and McAvoy moving to the fly half spot that he had occupied for the first two games of the season.
Elliot Hopkins added the fifth try ten minutes into the half, finding a gap in the defence and easily rounding the last man to cross the line for an unconverted score. Try number six followed within five minutes. A solid scrum by Welsh sent the ball out the McAvoy and Hunt showed his pace and power to blast past three Cornish players for a try on his debut. The conversion was added for a 38-10 lead.
A high tackle stopped a promising Welsh move and good phases of play from the resulting lineout were brought to a half by a knock on in midfield. Welsh remained dominant in the second half and were soon back on the attack again. A good run by Jag Mahal and then Howells took Welsh towards the Cornish try line and set up a ruck a few metres out. The ball found its way to Howells who dived over to become the top try scorer since the club regrouped in 2017. McAvoy slotted over his second conversion of the game.
The tries were now coming thick and fast, the control shown by the forwards providing a try for one of their own. From five metres out the pack formed up for another effective drive and Jack Anderson claimed the five points and McAvoy added two more.
The game moved into the final quarter and there were still more points to come. A team warning for numerous infringements by London Cornish handed the ball to Welsh and with confidence high they took a tap penalty. The pack formed up again near the line with Luke Crocker adding his name to the list of try scorers. McAvoy’s conversion made the score 59-10.
Tiredness was setting in for both teams in the closing minutes and although play became scrappy at times the game continued to be played in the best spirit, no better example being the Cornish wing assisting a London Welsh player stretch out some cramp. The final minute gave the home crowd the chance to enjoy one more try. A steady scrum and quick passing moved the ball out to Peschisolido who again showed his pace to cross for his second try.
Final score – London Welsh 64 London Cornish 10
Penderyn Whiskey Player of the Match – Tom Hunt
London Welsh finished the weekend top of London 1 South, ahead of Chichester on points difference. Next week the 1st XV travel to Horsham.