Welsh secure historic Championship title
A new chapter was added to the rich history of London Welsh as the Exiles clinched the Championship title on a glorious night at the Kassam Stadium.
In the likes of captain John Mills, goalkicker Alex Davies and man of the match Lee Beach and co, the club now has new heroes to stand alongside past greats such as JPR Williams, John Taylor and John Dawes.
The off-the-field issues regarding the club’s quest for promotion to the Premiership were never far from mind - that was perhaps inevitable - but this was a moment for the players, coaches and supporters to celebrate a truly wonderful night and a famous achievement – the club’s first piece of silverware since they lifted the Courage League Division 5 title in 1994-95.
It wasn’t plain sailing and for a time it looked as if the Exiles would need every bit of their 16-point lead from the 1st Leg at Mennaye Field.
The Pirates started as they had to, throwing everything at Welsh, and Matthew Evans’ try separated the sides at the break.
It was most definitely game on and the Pirates and their travelling support knew it.
But as so often this season, this London Welsh team dug deep to find an answer, and they duly slammed the door shut in their opponent’s faces in the second half. The Exiles hadn’t come this far to lose it now.
With inspired performances all over the pitch, Welsh took the game to the Pirates, cranking up the pressure, and it yielded points.
Full back Alex Davies chipped away at the lead before Hudson Tonga’uiha delivered the knock out punch, bursting through to score under the posts. The sense of relief was tangible; Welsh were almost there.
Ryan Storer went over from close range but it would have taken something miraculous to deny the Exiles now, and fittingly the final word went to the champions-elect as replacement Jack Moates dived over.
The scenes which followed will live long in the memory as London Welsh captain Jon Mills hoisted aloft the Championship trophy.
The club’s biggest battle may yet come off the pitch, but after nine months and 32 games, London Welsh can call themselves the 2011/12 Championship winners, and no one can ever take that away, after a truly magical night at the Kassam Stadium.
The Pirates will take huge credit for their performance, particularly in the first half.
They were sharp in attack and physical at the breakdown in defence. Aaron Penberthy’s drop goal was just reward.
Davies (2) and Cook traded penalties and Welsh were content to be level on the night after 14 minutes – for the Exiles it was 14 minutes closer to the Championship title.
But hopes that Welsh would see the game out without alarm were dispelled when Rob Cook countered and kicked ahead and Evans collected to score. Cook converted and the Exiles’ overall lead was down to a less than comfortable nine points.
Davies had the chance to narrow the gap on the stroke of half-time, but his penalty slipped past the right hand upright.
The Pirates were well worthy of their half-time lead, but just as they had bossed the first half, London Welsh took the second by the scruff of the neck and never let go until the Championship trophy was in their grasp.
Straight from the restart Welsh set the pace and the intensity. Davies reduced the gap with his third penalty.
He added his fourth when James Lewis broke and Ross chipped for the corner. David Doherty’s appeals for a mark were in vain and Dan George charged the ball down.
A penalty was Welsh’s reward, although it would take a few minutes before the TMO would confirm that Davies’ kick had stayed the correct side of the right hand upright.
Welsh had a stranglehold on the game – it was the Pirates’ turn to struggle to gain a platform. Mills couldn’t finish off Davies’ break, but a Welsh try was coming.
Davies’ fifth penalty edged Welsh ahead before the game’s defining moment came when Tonga’uiha burst clean through to score under the posts with 13 minutes remaining. Welsh could almost taste it.
Davies converted and with the tension visibly lifted from their shoulders, Welsh looked to cut lose.
When Storer forced his way over, six minutes still remained but it would have taken something extraordinary to deny the Exiles now.
Just two points separated the sides on the night, but Moates spied a gap to make sure Welsh won the game on the night. Cue the celebrations London Welsh: Tries: Tonga’uiha, Moates; Cons: Davies (2); Pens: Davies (5).
Cornish Pirates: Tries: Evans; Storer; Cons: Cook (2); Pens: Cook; Drop goals: Penberthy.
London Welsh: Alex Davies, Joe Ajuwa, James Lewis, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Joe Nick Scott, Gordon Ross, Rob Lewis, Max Lahiff, Dan George, James Tideswell, Jon Mills ©, Matt Corker, Lee Beach, Mike Denbee, Ed Jackson.
Replacements: Vili Ma’asi for George (53mins), Greg Bateman for Tideswell (66mins), Sen Jewell for James Lewis (66mins), Billy Moss for Max Lahiff (72mins), Jack Moates for Rob Lewis (74mins), Ben Russell for Beach (76mins), Martin Purdy for Mills (76mins).
Cornish Pirates: Rob Cook, Matt Evans, Grant Pointer, Drew Locke, David Doherty, Aaron Penberthy, Gavin Cattle ©, Carl Rimmer, Dave Ward, Alan Paver, Laurie McGlone, Ian Nimmo, Dave Ewers, Phil Burgess, Ben Maidment.
Replacements: Tom Cooper for Locke (27mins), Kyle Marriott for Maidment (50mins), Tom Kessell for Cattle (56mins), Michael Myerscough for McGlone (56mins), Rob Elloway for Ward (62mins), Ryan Storer for Rimmer (66mins), Rhodri McAtee for Evans (76mins).