London Welsh maintained their 100 per cent start to the season at Old Deer Park with a bonus-point win over Doncaster Knights – the club’s third consecutive bonus-point win at home.
The proverbial game of two halves saw Welsh have the four-try bonus-point in the bag before half-time, thanks to tries from Dominic Shabbo (2), Ben Sevenson and Marc Breeze, only for the Exiles to be left clinging on at the end as Doncaster fought back.
The sinbinning of Shabbo coupled with Stephen McColl’s try turned the momentum in the away side’s favour, and tries from Dougie Flockhart and Petaia Gidlow ensured a losing bonus-point for Doncaster, and more than a few anxious moments for the Exiles late on.
After a rather subdued opening few minutes, Welsh then manufactured a superb opening try from first phase possession. From clean lineout ball on half-way, Hudson Tonga’uiha’s dummy run and Gordon Ross’ miss pass created space for Errie Claassens and the full back fed Dom Shabbo to beat Flockhart on the outside and touch down.
Ross couldn’t add the conversion and Doncaster looked like they might respond after a great scrum by the Knights’ pack won a penalty and Tristan Roberts took play into the Exiles’ half. However, McColl’s grubber for Matt Williams to chase was overcooked and Claassens was able to marshal the ball dead.
Welsh rode their luck when Stevenson and Claassens both failed to clear their lines, but the luck was clearly with the home side as the ball broke lose in the Doncaster midfield and Shabbo was on hand to collect the gift, sprint clear and score under the posts. Ross converted.
Flockhart was then caught offside as he intercepted Ross’ pass and the former Scotland international extended the Welsh lead to 15-0 with a sweet strike from just inside the Knights’ half.
Roberts immediately cancelled out Ross’ penalty, though, as Welsh were then penalised at a maul and the Doncaster fly half found the centre of the posts to open the visitor’s account.
But Welsh extended their lead further ten minutes later with a moment of magic from scrum half Stevenson. Tongu’uiha made the initial break before off loading to Stevenson in support, and he cleverly chipped last man McColl before gathering and diving over the line. Ross added the extras and the home side led 22-3.
Welsh were now rampant, threatening to carve Doncaster open at every opportunity and Simon Whatling danced his way into the Doncaster 22, only for Martin Purdy to be bundled into touch.
Welsh were not to be denied, however, and they wrapped up the bonus-point three minutes before the break as Chris Hallam was yellow carded and Ross drilled the ball into the corner.
Purdy secured lineout possession and the Welsh pack drove their way over the line, with hooker Breeze the man to emerge with the ball. Ross converted to see the Exiles take a commanding 29-3 lead into the break.
Doncaster escaped without further punishment on the scoreboard before Hallam returned to the fray, and when he did the scrum half was just in time to see Williams’ slicing run take the Knights as close as they’d been to the Welsh try line. But Welsh weren’t out of the woods and quick ball saw Roberts’ miss pass pick out McColl to barge through two Welsh tacklers and score in the corner. Roberts added an excellent conversion from the touchline.
Welsh were struggling to recapture their first half spark, only fleetingly showing glimpses of the rugby which had seen them dominate the opening 40, and ultimately they need did.
A come back looked beyond Doncaster until Shabbo was sinbinned for ten minutes. The Knights took swift advantage of their numerical superiority and McColl drove up to line before Steve Boden supplied the final scoring pass for Flockhart to dive over in the corner.
Roberts converted and suddenly there was an air of anxiety around Old Deer Park, but the Doncaster fly half then twice spurned the chance to crank it up a few more notches when he missed two kickable penalties.
Welsh were unable to hold on to possession and build anything resembling a concerted period of pressure, while at the other end Ed Jackson took play to within touching distance of the Welsh line.
The Exiles, though, emerged unscathed having been pinned in their own corner as Nick Runciman made a crucial interception and it looked as if the home side had finally seen the game out.
But there was still time for Roberts to push a late penalty into the corner and for Gidlow to force his way over to secure a losing bonus-point for the visitors – something that looked unlikely in the extreme at half-time.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Shabbo (2), Stevenson, Breeze; Cons: Ross (3); Pen: Ross.
Doncaster Knights scorers:
Tries: McColl, Flockhart, Gidlow; Cons: Roberts (3); Pen: Roberts.
London Welsh: Errie Claassens, Dom Shabbo, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Simon Whatling, Josh Drauniniu, Gordon Ross, Ben Stevenson, Michael Holford, Marc Breeze, Shawn Pittman, Martin Pudy, Matt Corker, Dan Williams, Lee Beach, Ben Russell.
Replacements: Lorne Ward for Holford (34min), Nick Runciman for Stevenson (46min), Vili Ma’asi for Breeze (47min), Epi Taione for Russell (51min), Aled Thomas for Ross (58min), Liam Gibson for Whatling (60min), Mike Powell for Purdy (61min).
Yellow card: Dom Shabbo (54min).
Doncaster Knights: Stephen McColl, Dougie Flockhart, Chris Briers, Petaia Gidlow, Matty Williams, Tristan Roberts, Chris Hallam, Dan Frazier, Steve Boden, Michael Cusack, Matt Challinor, Glen Kenworthy, Andy Boyde, Neil Cochrane ©, Ed Jackson.
Replacements: Stuart Corsar for Frazier, Dom Parsons for Kenworthy, Zack Farivarz for Boyde, Oliver Goss for Briers, Lewis Thiede for Cusack.
Replacement not used: Peter Jericevich, Tom Doughty.
Yellow card: Chris Hallam (36min).
Officials: Ref – Michael Tutty; TJ’s Terry Hall & Darryl Chapman.