Two weeks ago London Welsh sat at the top of the Championship table, but consecutive defeats to rival top six sides have seen us drop to fourth spot. This weekend we entertain second-placed Cornish Pirates, who ended our interest in last season’s promotion play-offs with their semi-final victory at the Mennaye Field, in a clash of the two teams seen by many as pre-season favourites for promotion.
After the recent defeats at home to Rotherham and in the Friday night thriller at Bristol our playing record reads played eight, won five, lost three. Our Achilles heel lies in the fact that we’ve only beaten teams in the bottom half of the table, and lost to all of the teams we’ve played in the top half. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the last fortnight is that it was easy to anticipate where the attacking threat posed by Rotherham and Bristol was coming from. Nine of Rotherham’s eleven tries scored prior to their visit to ODP had been scored in the second half, yet we conceded four times in the second period and needed a last-minute Edd Thrower try to give the final scoreline a more respectable appearance. Nevertheless, the Titans became the first team to leave ODP with the full five-point haul since Nottingham’s 29-12 play-off win some 18 months previously. And last Friday the Bristol backs continued their rich vein of form, with Jack Tovey and George Watkins extending their respective try-scoring records to six apiece from the opening eight rounds.
This weekend’s fixture pits the two best attacks in the league against each other, with Pirates having scored one more than our 30 league tries. No team has scored more tries from half-back than our visitors’ six, while the Welsh have the most tries from the back-row (twelve), mainly courtesy of the league’s top try-scorer, Ed Jackson. Prior to joining Welsh, Ed had scored just four tries in 31 league appearances for Cleve (none from three, 2008-09), Newbury (two from nine, 2009-10) and Doncaster (two from 19, 2010-11); thus far he’s bagged eight from eight for the Exiles. With 248 points at an average of 31 per game, we’ve scored two points more than the Pirates, and have more try-bonus points (five) than any other team, although Bristol, Pirates, Bedford and Doncaster have each scored four tries on four occasions. Only Bristol and Rotherham have taken at least a point from every game, with Welsh drawing a blank against the Titans and Bedford collecting a surprise 34-24 win in Penzance three weeks ago.
Since the Pirates - then called Penzance & Newlyn following the merger of the two clubs in 1945 - were promoted to level two in 2003 we have faced each other 17 times, Welsh winning on seven occasions, with four wins apiece in Richmond. Of the other eleven Championship clubs only four - Doncaster, Nottingham, Moseley and Esher - have been beaten by the Welsh more times than they’ve beaten us in league rugby, while honours are even with both London Scottish and Plymouth. Worryingly, that means that most of the top sides have the superior record in the head-to-head with the Dragons, meaning that none of them travel to ODP with a sense of trepidation and the weight of history on their shoulders. Although the Pirates’ first visit in March 2004 resulted in a 37-5 thrashing, Welsh scoring 30 unanswered points in the opening period, they won on four of their next five visits; yet prior to the two defeats which topped-and-tailed our 2010-11 campaign we’d won on our last three visits to Cornwall.
Following their defeat to Worcester in the play-off final last May, many followers of the Championship installed Chris Stirling’s side as favourites for this season, with Welsh expected to be serious challengers due to the fact that we’re widely rumoured to have a playing budget up to 50% greater than our closest rivals. They started in inauspicious style, with a 27-27 draw at Moseley on the opening weekend, and while they needed Rob Cook’s conversion of Grant Pointer’s 80th minute try to claim another 25-25 draw at Nottingham a fortnight ago they’ve suffered just that solitary defeat to Bedford. The quest for a Stadium for Cornwall (S4C) continues, and on 17th November - coincidentally chairman Dicky Evans’ birthday - the Strategic Planning Committee of Cornwall Council meets to assess the planning application. There are many Cornishmen (and women) who are unhappy with the fact that Cornwall Council’s cabinet voted in March to spend £120,000 of public funds on a feasibility study into the proposed project, which has an estimated budget of £14m-£24m (sounds like some of the more outrageous estimates of our playing budget…) despite the apparently obvious benefits to the wider community.
Yet attendances at the Mennaye are down about 18% on last year, and at ODP we’ve lost nearly a quarter of our audience; crowds in the Championship are 22.4% lower than last season’s average, not helped by the fact that numbers at Headingley are barely one third of those seen at Worcester. But last Friday night’s game at Bristol drew over 6,000, despite the fact that the game was televised live on Sky; it was the biggest attendance at the Memorial Stadium outside of the knockout stages of the play-offs since 7,714 witnessed the Pirates’ visit on New Year’s Day 2010, and could suggest that post-World Cup the punters will actually get out of the armchairs and into the stands (or the duckboards if you prefer). It was widely acknowledged that the game was a fantastic advert for the Championship - although the defence coaches may disagree with that - and it’s even been reported that former Bristol players & management have suggested that the Championship now is on a similar level to the Premiership a few years ago. If only somebody would tell the RFU that.
Very good preview, Mark.
I have to say that Pirates don't have a great record at ODP so we set off more in hope than expectation.
It's always a pleasure to visit London Welsh which has an awesome tradition and history. Just hope it's dry, because traipsing across that field isn't pleasant in the pouring rain!
The Welsh and The Cornish have the shared Celtic heritage which gives us a shared love of rugby and a passion which always makes the matches a bit special.
If coming by train via Paddington, best to take a Bakerloo to Waterloo then train to Richmond than try to use the tube system which not for the first weekend in recent history has a lot of closures on other lines.
A large contingent at Bristol was the Pied Piper parade of children who I am fairly sure were let in free. That still leaves a paying crowd of well over 4,800, perhaps over 5,000, which is very impressive. Bristol RFC have a city-size crowd which Leeds should also attract but doesn't.
As to Pirates, it will be a tough match. Possession is something we should focus on rather than kicking for yardage. The only chips ahead over the defence line should be where we are certain of catching up with the ball.
Certainly promises to be a tough one. Think we beat Pirates in the rain at ODP last season when we moved from the normal game style to one that matched the conditions.
Three defeats in a row which I think is at least in part due to not having a plan B. Replacements are definitely not weakening the team but they are not making an impact by changing the approach to the game. The same style continues just with different personnel. Also need to show that they can close out a game, Bedford and Bristol matches were far too similar in that respect.
Front row remain a major concern in the scrum. They all seem to be great in the loose (frustrated centres?) but we have to win the scrums first!
Good grief - both Lewis brothers starting. On the pitch at the same time. This will prove it is not all done with mirrors.
I think nld makes a good point, and the answer may be a good briefing to Alex Davies before he comes on as sub. I know the coach likes to wind them up and let them go from the kick off and using their own judgements but if the first 6o minute tactics are not working, a new game plan needs to come in.
I don't know the secrets of the scrum, but are we being done over in ways that are not quite legal? Like one side of the the opposition front row retreating, unobserved by the ref, so as to create the impression of illegal turning of the scrum by LW?
It was always going to be difficult and so it proved. The most notable feature today was handling errors that had not featured so much in earlier years, plus a referee on the lookout for offside and finding it. Setting aside the disappointment of ending with a tie, I think the encouraging thing about this weekend's matches so far is that nobody has got away from us although Yorkshire must be smiling with good results for Doncaster, Rotherham and Leeds.
Bristol gain nil points, remain top but only by one point @ 33
Pirates gain two points, but slip to third @ 30
Bedford gain one point, but slip to fifth @ 28
WELSH gain two points, and hold place at fourth @ 29
Rotherham gain 5 points, and jump from fifth to second @ 32
Doncaster also jump into the top 6, and Leeds begin their escape from the basement back into contention.
It's still wide open, but I think Yorkshire may figure more highly in the leadership of the division than previously reckoned. Something in the tea perhaps.
Alex Davies' nine points in the last ten minutes made the difference between fourth and sixth place in the league. Excellent goal kicking by him. Generally appeared to be a lack of ideas and pace but a useful two points.
What happened to the activities advertised before, during and after the game?
Stuck in Canada for a while and must put on record that the live text feed of the game was much appreciated.
Seemed a nail biting game and the attendance was good.
Thanks to the club for this facility.
Thanks for the warning Ian H but it's the lumberjacks I am careful about. To quote Monty Python
"I cut down trees. I wear high heels,
Suspendies, and a bra.
I wish I'd been a girlie,
Just like my dear Papa.
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