London Welsh stun lacklustre Bristol
May 28, 2014
Nick Scott breaks to score the Exiles' second try © Getty Images
London Welsh stunned favourites Bristol to win the first leg of the Championship play-off at a rain-soaked Kassam Stadium, taking a 19-point advantage into next week's second leg. They still face a battle at the Memorial Stadium but Bristol will have to show a marked improvement if they are to overturn the lead and justify the sizeable investment in Andy Robinson and his squad.
Two days of rain which fell relentlessly through the evening allied to the pressure of the occasion meant that this game was never likely to be a classic. Despite being away, Bristol's travelling support outnumbered the home fans and when Marco Mama drove over from a lineout after four minutes they sat back for what most suspected might be a one-sided affair.
But the Exiles had a plan, and a simple one, and led by Gordon Ross they kicked deep into the Bristol half, initially with little success but as the ball got greasier the tactic became more and more effective. Simple rugby executed clinically.
Crucially, London Welsh hit back within minutes of Mama's score, Nathan Trevett driving over, again from a lineout after the safer option of a kick for points had been declined in favour of a chip to the corner.
The turning point came in the 22nd minute when Bristol, deep in the Welsh 22, conceded possession and a penalty. Wayne Barnes played good advantage, the Welsh broke and Nick Scott outpaced the chasing Bristol defence over more than half the field. Bristol never really recovered - the loss of the inspirational Ryan Jones with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury was a further blow and then Luke Baldwin hobbled off; half-time could not come soon enough.
Whatever Robinson said at the break did not do the trick and Bristol only seriously threatened the Welsh line once in the second-half.
The unfussy but effective Welsh pack grew increasingly dominant and were rewarded when Carl Kirwin piled over from another lineout following a penalty shortly before the hour. Had Scott not fumbled a pass five metres out with the line at his mercy shortly after then, Bristol might have imploded completely.
The last quarter was scrappy, Bristol seemingly set on damage limitation and the Exiles more than happy with the lead. Even when Nick Koster was sin-binned 11 minutes out to reduce Bristol to 14 men, London Welsh did not press the advantage. The teams swapped penalties in the last minutes but the bullish chants of 'Bristol, Bristol' from the traveling fans had long since taken on a desperate air.
London Welsh know they have a lot to do and that Bristol are unlikely to be as bad in successive matches. If the conditions are dry as opposed to swampy, Bristol will also fancy their chances more. It promises to be a real battle rather than the coronation that seemed likely earlier in the evening.
Bristol's try scorer Marco Mama breaks through a tackle © Getty Images
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