MATCH: Esher 22 v 19 London Welsh. The Championship
Chris Whitehead and Sam Ulph returned to haunt London Welsh as Esher took the derby bragging rights at Molesey Road on Friday night.
The former Exiles kicked all but five of their side’s points, with Ulph landing what proved to be the winning penalty 13 minutes from time.
The win ended Esher’s run of three matches without a victory, while ending Welsh’s two-match winning run, and the Exiles will have to wait until December 27 for the chance to extract revenge.
When Whitehead spilt Gordon Ross’ straight forward kick it was an indication, if any were needed, of the testing conditions both sides faced at a rain sodden Molesey Road.
Errie Claassens’ half break caught Esher offside and Ross turned down the chance to go for the posts, to nudge the ball into the corner, but Welsh couldn’t turn the opportunity into points as they were penalised for accidental offside.
It fell upon Whitehead to open the scoring, after an overthrown Welsh lineout was gratefully accepted by Sam Stitcher and the Exiles were caught offside.
But Welsh wiped that penalty out within minutes when Hudson Tonga’uiha found a gap, drew Whitehead and released Liam Gibson to race clear. Ross added the extras.
Whitehead immediately cut the deficit to a point with his second penalty but when David Slemen put a testing the ball in behind the Exiles, Josh Drauniniu had the pace to win Johnny Hylton to touch down.
Welsh’s attempts to play the game at pace were being frustrated, while Slemen and Whitehead were kicking intelligently.
Claassens produced one scintillating break from under his own posts, but Welsh were struggling to build a period of concerted pressure.
Esher, though, were beginning to get the upper hand and their forwards barged their way up to the Welsh line.
A succession of penalties saw Whitehead probe the corner and although Martin Purdy produced one excellent steal, Esher pressure eventually told when Epi Taione was caught offside in front of his own posts and Whitehead edged Esher ahead.
Esher were playing for territory and playing it well, and when the ball broke loose as Gibson was forced back on half way, it was hacked and Robert Anderson dived on it.
Shawn Renwick fed Hylton and although Ben Stevenson produced a try saving tackle, Renwick drove over from close range. Whitehead added a superb conversion close to the left hand touchline and added three more when Welsh were penalised at a scrum on their own 22, despite Taione having just returned to the field to swell the Exiles’ pack.
Welsh needed half time to regroup and whatever was said looked to have had the desired effect when the Exiles’ early pressure was rewarded with a Ross penalty.
The Exiles were immediately back in the Esher 22 thanks to two fine touch finders from Claassens, giving the home side a taste of their own first half medicine.
With Welsh pressing, Esher then lost the excellent Whitehead to injury, but the frustration was beginning to build for the visitors as they struggled to turn possession and dominance in the scrums into points.
Slemen’s cross field kick forced Josh Drauninu to concede a lineout and in their eagerness to win back possession Welsh were penalised. With Whitehead off it was another former Dragon, Ulph, who stepped up, only to see his kick hit the right hand upright.
Three minutes later, though, from an almost identical spot, Ulph curled over what would prove the winning penalty after Welsh were adjudged to have taken out the jumper at the lineout.
Welsh needed a response and they needed it quickly, and Ross provided it with two penalties in the space of a minute. No sooner had Esher looked to have established a winning lead than it was a one score game again.
Welsh’s tails were up and a 50-metre Claassens break took the Exiles back to where they needed to be. The Exiles had upped the tempo with Esher firmly on the back foot.
Aled Thomas had the chance to level the scores, only to see his attempt shave the right hand upright. A couple of penalties took Welsh up to the Esher line and their forwards pounded away, but the Esher defence held firm and time was not the Exiles’ friend as they slipped to their second away defeat of the season.
Try: Renwick; Con: Whitehead; Pens: Whitehead (4), Ulph (4).
London Welsh scorers:
Try: Gibson; Con: Ross; Pens: Ross (4).
Esher: Chris Whitehead, Sam Ulph, Philip MacKenzie, Arran Cruickshanks, Jonny Hylton, David Slemen, Clive Stuart-Smith, David Millard, Kevin Corrigan, Ricky Nebbett, Robert Anderson, Rudzki Karl, Luke Wallace, Sam Stitcher, Shawn Renwick.
Replacements: Samuel Smith for Whitehead (54min), Christopher York for Renwick (58min), Paul Barker for Rudzki (80+1min).
Replacements not used: Timothy Tunnicliff, Alexander Walker, Neil Taylor, Andrew Garner.
London Welsh: Errie Claassens, Liam Gibson, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Simon Whatling, Josh Drauniniu, Gordon Ross, Ben Stevenson, Michael Holford, Marc Breeze, Shawn Pittman, Martin Purdy, Matt Corker, Ben Russell, Michael Hills, Epi Taione.
Replacements: Nick Runciman for Stevenson (61min), Lee Beach for Taione (63min), Lorne Ward for Holford (69min), Dominic Shabbo for Whatling (70min), Aled Thomas for Ross (70min), Vili Ma’asi for Breeze (79min).
Replacement not used: Mike Powell.
Yellow card: Epi Taione (31min).
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Officials: Ref – Martin Fox; TJ’s Paul Kimber & Gareth Copsy.