By Ian Todd
March 19 2012
Bristol just managed to scrape a draw with the last play of the game in a match that always promised to be close. Bogey team London Welsh came close to overturning Bristol’s home record, but frankly neither team offered much in open play; with Bristol perhaps having a couple more chances than the visiting side. Several Bristol players saved their worst individual performances for this game. I won’t mention any names but they and the coaches surely know who they were. Some of the positional selections from Bristol were rather odd, Will Helu’s a versatile player, but wing isn’t really his best position although, creditably he gave it his all. And why bring Dan Montagu into the second row? We do seem determined to keep a particular composition in the back row even if it means playing someone out of position. A disappointing afternoon with Bristol struggling in a number of areas against a team that largely negated Bristol’s strengths, if at the expense of negating their own.
London Welsh kicked off the game in lovely early spring conditions. But the true tone of the afternoon was set out early with Jon Goodridge knocking on and Bristol penalised at the consequent scrum. Bristol escaped when Ross was, surprisingly, wide of the mark with his kick for points. Welsh attacked well and the Bristol defence had to work hard. A penalty to Bristol served to relieve the pressure, but Tristan Roberts’ kick made little ground (perhaps he carried an injury into the game?). The forwards rescued the situation with a great drive from the lineout that took play well into the Welsh half.
Welsh were undaunted and hit back at Bristol with a searing move down the right wing that only a desperate tackle from Ruki Tipuna just managed to halt short of the line. A silly penalty from Welsh once more allowed Bristol to take play away from the danger zone. A cross-field kick from Roberts opened up some space in the Welsh defence and they went offside as the struggled to cope with the sudden change of axis to the Bristol attack. Roberts was spot on with his kick for a 3 – 0 lead.
Bristol exerted a short period of pressure with a good break from Marco Mama and an entertaining dummy from Ross Johnston. Welsh gave away another cheap penalty and Roberts duly extended the lead. A penalty kick from Roberts failed to make touch and it allowed Welsh to move back onto the attack with a powerful charge from Tong’uiha that lead to penalty to Welsh that Davies struck to narrow the gap to 6 – 3. Sloppy play from Bristol was finally salvaged by a Roberts’ touchfinder. Jack Tovey managed to make some ground from the Welsh clearance kick but his efforts came to naught when the ball was moved to the opposite wing and some poor handling handed the advantage back to the visitors.
A lovely counter and chip ahead from Ajuwa put Bristol under real pressure but Tipuna scampered back to sweep up the ball and used all his height to duck between the legs of the Welsh winger and then set up Goodridge for a solo run down the wing. Welsh were penalised again with Denbee shown the yellow-card. Roberts failed with his kick at the posts. Bristol again managed to exert a brief period of pressure, with Tovey making some headway. As before though, the handling as the ball went across field let Bristol down badly. Welsh coped well with the one-man disadvantage and a foolish mix-up between Tovey and Goodridge led to a Welsh scrum about 30 metres out and Bristol were penalised to allow Davies to equalise the score. Bristol were stung into more purposeful action and strong, direct running released Fautua Otto down the right wing and only a hint of a foot in touch, correctly called, prevented a try just before half-time.
Photo of hat by special request
Bristol were quickly on the front foot at the start of the second half and the pressure forced a loose pass to the invisible player behind the line that could only be hacked dead to give Bristol a five metre scrum. Bristol struggled to overpower the defence. Another scrum made no real progress and Bristol were lucky that Welsh were penalised as the ball was clumsily moved wide. Replacement Matthew Jones knocked Bristol back into the lead at 9 – 6.
Poor handling continued to dog Bristol’s endeavours and only good defensive work from Jones and Tipuna enabled the hosts to maintain some sort of control. A good charge down of Davies’ laboured clearance by Will Helu put Welsh under pressure but a knock-on almost literally threw away hard won possession and allowed Welsh to scramble the ball to the edge of the 22. Lax Welsh kicking then gave Otto another chance to storm down the wing, only to be bundled into touch in the right hand corner.
Attempts by Bristol to up the tempo of the game just served to expose the poor quality of handling on display in the atrocious conditions. A kick out on the full gave Welsh good field position and a soft penalty allowed Davies to equalise once again. Bristol’s scrum seemed to be struggling and this allowed Welsh to keep the hosts under pressure. A succession of knock-ons from both sides prevented either team from making any real progress, but the balance was certainly on the Welsh side. Poor tackling from Bristol permitted Welsh to get up close to the try line and the ball was popped back to Ross who struck a well taken drop-goal to take his side into a 6 – 12 lead.
Helu made another break down his wing that deserved some reward, but he was not well supported and the ball was lost forward. Bristol then gave away a penalty at the scrum that saw Welsh clear to touch outside their 22. Helu was trying single-handedly to wrest the game from Welsh and he again got his team moving forward as the clock ticked down. Bristol poured forward and were just held up as the pack hammered away at the line. A five metre scrum ensued but still Bristol could not break down the stalwart Welsh defence. Gradually Bristol were being edged back by the defensive efforts, but they managed, at last, to hold on to the ball. Finally the Welsh shield broke under the repeated Bristol blows and conceded a penalty 30 or 40 metres out. A hush fell on the crowd as Jones stepped up and struck the ball cleanly between the uprights to bring the score to 12-all with the last touch of the game.