London Welsh 18 London Scottish 16,
Old Deer Park; Saturday 19th November, 2011.
It took a Scotsman to silence the lone piper in the gathering gloom at the Old Deer Park on Saturday, writes Richard Grainger.
Gordon Ross, the London Welsh fly-half with 25 Scottish caps, slotted an 86th minute penalty to wipe out the lead that London Scottish had held since the second minute of stoppage time.
When these two illustrious clubs first met 126 years ago it was London Welsh’s inaugural outing, and the Scottish Exiles took the honours.
Underlining their fine rugby pedigree, a tribute was unveiled in memory of Harry Bowcott by John Dawes in the clubhouse before kick-off. Bowcott, who died in 2004 aged 97, won eight caps for Wales, and represented the Lions 20 times including five tests.
It looked as though the visitors would upset the form-book when James Brown’s second successful kick from just inside the Welsh half put the visitors in front for the first time in the 84th minute.
But when the Scottish went off their feet at a ruck, Mr Carley, who had been consistent at the breakdown all afternoon, had no hesitation in awarding the home side the penalty.
Ross duly obliged from head-on to the posts on the visitors’ 10 metre line, and the Scottish were left to ponder how they had managed to throw away a game that they eventually convinced themselves they could win.
For London Welsh, who threatened to dominate the match and looked by far the sharper of the two, it was a reprieve that they didn’t entirely deserve.
Welsh would have been eyeing a bonus point from this fixture and, when Tongan hooker Vili Ma’asi drove over from close range in the sixth minute, it looked on the cards.
A minute earlier Scottish fullback Augustin Gosio had been sin-binned for punching the ball away to prevent Welsh exploiting a three-man overlap.
However, problems at the set piece and a catalogue of handling errors meant that London Welsh were unable to pull away. Conceding a total of seven penalties and three free kicks at the scrum – where Lewis Thiede gave American Shawn Pittman a torrid time – didn’t help.
The lineout wasn’t much better, although the home side nicked a wayward Scottish throw that led to their second try in the 42nd minute. From this, man-of-the-match Joe Ajuwa muscled his way over in the corner for an unconverted score to give the Welsh a 12-3 half-time lead.
Four minutes earlier, Brown had kicked his first penalty for the visitors following yet another collapsed scrum.
Then in the 45th minute, David Howells spoiled another London Welsh overlap by intercepting Simon Whatling’s pass to gallop the length of the pitch. Brown converted to bring the Scottish within two points.
Ross was on target again with the boot in the 50th minute and that was that, until Brown struck twice to snatch the lead, albeit briefly before Ross hushed the bagpiper.
Victory was duly celebrated later in the clubhouse, as delighted and slightly inebriated Welsh voices worked through Max Boyce’s back catalogue, showing that the fine traditions of Exiles rugby are undiminished by the professional era.
Elsewhere, Bristol went back to the top of the table after a 37-33 win over the Cornish Pirates, and Esher picked up their first league point of the season – a losing bonus point at home to Leeds.
Full round-up next week!