London Welsh 23 v 16 Cornish Pirates Aled Thomas kicked 18 points as London Welsh returned to winning ways at Old Deer Park with a hard fought win over top four rivals Cornish Pirates. Following back-to back defeats at the hands of Worcester and Bedford the Exiles bounced back with a victory that also makes amends for the 22-3 defeat dished out by the Pirates earlier in the season. Thomas landed four first half penalties with Rob Cook replying for the Pirates to see the home take a 12-3 lead into the break, in a game played in testing conditions. Cook and Thomas traded further penalties before Phil Burgess’ superb solo try left just two points between the teams.
But Thomas calmed Welsh nerves with his sixth penalty and Dom Shabbo crossed to make the game for the home side. Cook’s late penalty ensured the visitor’s left Old Deer Park with what might prove a valuable losing bonus-point.
This was not an afternoon for free flowing rugby and Jonny Bentley’s knock-on owed everything to the wet conditions,
That gave Welsh good field position inside the Pirates 22 and after a succession of scrums Thomas stroked the ball between the uprights to give the Exiles the lead.
Welsh were enjoying the lions share of the ball but after Bentley drove a penalty into the corner Cook then levelled the scores when Welsh were penalised in front of their own posts.
Errie Claassens and Epi Taione were proving difficult for the Pirates to contain, and the ex-Tonga international seized upon an overthrown lineout only for Welsh to be met with some committed Pirates defence.
Burgess threatened to break away, after good work by Dave Ward to turn the ball over, but a penalty to Welsh at the resulting scrum saw Thomas nudge the Exiles back in front.
The scrum would be a fascinating battle all afternoon, with Welsh getting the upperhand.
Cook’s kick rolled dead, giving Welsh a scrum back deep in Pirates’ territory, and Welsh once again laid siege to the visitor’s line. But Hudson Tonga’uiha couldn’t gather Simon Whatling’s perfectly weighted grubber kick with the line at his mercy. It was the closest either side had come to a try.
Blocking, though, as Bentley put boot to ball gave Thomas a third sight of the uprights and three minutes later he added his fourth penalty with the last kick of the half to see Welsh take a useful 12-3 lead into the break.
For all their first half dominance, though, Welsh perhaps should have been leading by more.
The Exiles started the second half clearly intent on putting that right but they had nothing to show for dominating the opening 15 minutes, and the first points of the half would come from Cook after Liam Gibson forced to back track to retrieve Bentley’s intelligent kick over the wingers head.
Gibson’s clearance made little distance and when Welsh were penalised in midfield, Cook found the centre of the uprights.
Welsh would respond immediately, though, as the Pirates were penalised for hands in the ruck straight from the kick off and some back chat saw the kick moved forward to make Thomas’ job all the more easier.
Replacement Rhodri McAtee knocked on with the Pirates throwing greater caution to the wind, but then made amends with a great piece of work to haul down a rampaging Taione and win a penalty against the Welsh number eight for holding on.
The Pirates could make little from it but when Ward stripped the ball off Taione in the tackle, Burgess burst through a gap between Lorne Ward and Paul Sampson before stepping inside Claassens and touching down under the posts. Cook converted and just two points separated the sides.
But once again Welsh’s reply was swift and once again it came through the boot of Thomas, this time following Shabbo’s break.
In a tense finish, great work at the break down by James Tideswell won a penalty against Tyrone Holmes for holding on, only for Blair Cowan to steal the lineout as Welsh looked to close the game out.
They eventually did, though, when Claassens’ up and under was knocked on straight into the arms of Jonathan Mills and he released Shabbo to race clear.
Thomas couldn’t add the extras from the touchline – his first miss of the day – and when Welsh knocked on from the restart Pirates pressure led to Cook ensuring the visitor’s made the long trip home with at least the consolation of a losing bonus-point.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Shabbo; Pens: Thomas (6).
Cornish Pirates scorers:
Tries: Burgess; Cons Cook; Pens: Cook (3).
London Welsh: Errie Claassens, Liam Gibson, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Simon Whatling, Paul Sampson, Aled Thomas, Nick Runciman, Max Lahiff, Vili Ma’asi, Lorne Ward, Mike Powell, Matt Corker, Jon Mills ©, Lee Beach, Epi Taione.
Replacements: Dom Shabbo for Whatling (44min), Rob Lewis for Runciman (60min), James Tideswell for Ward (64min), Ben Russell for Beach (65min), Jonathan Fisher for Taione (65min), Marc Breeze for Ma’asi (75min).
Replacements not used: Ben Stevenson.
Cornish Pirates: Rob Cook, Grant Pointer, Matt Hopper, Steve Winn, Wes Davies, Jonny Bentley, Gavin Cattle ©, Ryan Storer, Dave Ward, Rudi Brits, Ian Nimmo, Mike Myerscough, Chris Morgan, Phil Burgess, Blair Cowan.
Replacements: James Doherty for Cattle (32min), Alan Paver for Storer (h-t), Rhodri McAtee for Davies (44min), Paul Andrew (44min), Laurie McGlone for Myerscough (48min), Tyrone Holmes for Burgess (67min).
Replacements not used: Tom Luke.
Officials: Ref – Dean Richards; Touch Judges: Tom Davis & Chris Seeley.