Preview to London Welsh (A) 12.04.14

12/04/2014

The final month of the league season begins with a tough ask of a fixture for Jersey.

The Islanders head to the Kassam Stadium to play the Championship's form side - London Welsh have won their last six games, scoring 209 points in the process, and have secured their play-off spot as they seek promotion back to the top level.

The Exiles could even enter the play-offs after topping the regular season table - this will depend on their match at the Memorial Stadium against Bristol next weekend, as well as their ability to overcome a Jersey side looking to seal their own destiny.

Harvey Biljon's side need one more win to finally pull clear of bottom-placed Ealing, who have a home game against the other relegation contenders, Nottingham.

This is Jersey's first trip to the Kassam Stadium, home of Oxford United, where Welsh relocated in summer 2012 in order to meet the ground criteria for the Aviva Premiership. They recently announced they would remain at the Kassam next season regardless of which level they are playing at.

Even though it takes place in Oxford, not London, the trip will feature a rare Saturday night return to the Island for the visitors, thanks to the 2pm kick-off agreed for this game and the corresponding fixture at St Peter in January. There will also be the same man in charge - Greg Macdonald.


News from the Jersey Camp

Most sides are suffering from injuries at this time of year, and Jersey are no exception, although other clubs have longer lists of players missing. Two of those missing through injury will leave St Peter at the end of the season - James Voss heading to Gloucester on a scholarship at Hartpury College, and Dave Young to the Dragons in Wales. Latu Makaafi begins a two week ban following a red card against Moseley. Aaron Penberthy should return to the fray after a freak tooth injury suffered in the warm-up against Moseley.

The Jersey line-up will be announced at 12noon on Friday.


Any Previous?

Prior to the first weekend of 2014, The two clubs certainly hadn't met in the modern era, and there's no obvious evidence of any meetings going further back in time, although I wouldn't rule out the Exiles having made a sneaky tour at some stage way back when. If anyone has any info on this front, do tell!

Last January, the visiting Welshies took control of the game through first half tries from Joe Ajuwa, Mike Denbee and Mitch Lees, although Jersey gave themselves hope through two Niall O'Connor penalties and a maiden try for Jack Burroughs (HT 13-21).

Welsh Scrum V2

The visitors would have expected a bonus point, but in the end had to be content with sealing the victory through four Alex Davies penalties, losing the second half 13-12 to a plucky Jersey side who achieved a penalty try with seven minutes to play, grabbing a losing BP in the process. 26-33 FT - report & pic links HERE


London Welsh in 2013/14

In the wake of relegation from the Premiership, the Exiles recruited Justin Burnell as Head Coach. Burnell, 46, was a flanker with Pontypridd, Treorchy, Bridgend and Neath in his playing days - if he'd been playing 10 years later he'd no doubt have ended up with a cap or three - who was subsequently a member of the coaching set-up at Cardiff Blues for five seasons, including two as joint Head Coach.

_58713402_burnell

Burnell (pictured above) set to work on some recruitment of his own: former England international Tom May joined as team captain, as did ex-British & Irish Lions hooker Andy Titterrell. Assistant coach and fly half Gordon Ross and former Wales centre Sonny Parker, club captain Matt Corker, scrum half Rob Lewis and back row duo Richard Thorpe and Daniel Browne all add further experience, to match the youthful talents of the likes of Seb Stegmann (a Harlequins Academy graduate who went on to play for Quins 1st XV before joining Esher), Nick Scott, Carl Kirwan (a try-scorer for Rotherham v Jersey 16 months ago), Peter Browne and Will Robinson. So far it has proven to be a good blend.

More recently the Exiles have added ex-Pirate Ian Nimmo and James Tincknell, who started the season at the Pirates (having played against Jersey for Wharfedale in January 2012), to their squad, while five-times-capped England centre Ollie Smith joined the coaching set up soon after leaving Esher.

Last month the Exiles confirmed no fewer than eight new additions to their ranks: USA Eagles flanker John Quill, Munster prop Paddy Ryan and versatile former London Wasps Academy back Liam O'Neill, plus a return to the club for scrum half Tyson Keats. There was also number 8 Rory Pitman on loan from Wasps and three dual registration deals: Worcester Warriors and England U19 wing Josh Watkins, Bath second row Will Spencer and Leicester Tigers prop Tom Bristow.

Plymouth were despatched 40-9 at home and Welsh moved to the top of the table, ahead of Rotherham, courtesy of a narrow 27-32 success at Clifton Lane.

The British & Irish Cup didn't start too well for the Welsh, defeated by London Scottish and Pontypridd in their opening games. They won back-to-back matches against Edinburgh Accies last month and could yet manage a quarter-final place.

Back in the league, Welsh beat Cornish Pirates with ease and were then more stretched by Leeds and Bristol, as well as Ealing who showed they were getting to grips with the division in a 28-0 defeat to the unbeaten league leaders.

After defeating Moseley 8-24 at Billesley Comon, the Welsh were finally downed by Bedford in a 28-26 thriller at Goldington Road.

After the December B&I break, Welsh played their fellow Exiles London Scottish at the Kassam. The Sky game was played in terrible conditions, and the Scots made the better of it, chiselling away to a 0-13 lead before Alan Awcock grabbed a consolation try, Alex Davies' conversion attempt failing to achieve a bonus point with the final kick.

In January, following the win in Jersey, the Exiles were squeezed out of the B&I by Pontypridd, who have now reached the semi-finals, but then got an important home win over Leeds.

Plymouth Albion hadn't won a home game all season when Welsh came calling in early February, but the high-fliers were handed a shock, hammered 36-15 by the Devonians. The recovery from this set-back was impressive - beating Rotherham by a 30+ point margin at the Kassam prior to a three-week break from competitive action.

March was an impressive month for Welsh - five wins and an impressive 22 points out of a possible 25, including tough away wins in Cornwall and Richmond and a hefty win over Moseley at Old Deer Park, the old home patch pressed into service to tie in with the England v Wales game at Twickenham.


History of London Welsh RFC

The history of London Welsh so far began, as it finished, with a defeat to London Scottish. In October 1885 the Scots won by a try and a goal at Saracens' old Walthamstow ground in East London.

The club has produced a steady stream of Welsh internationals, although in the current squad only Sonny Parker (31 caps between 2002-08) has achieved that honour. The club's website puts the total of Welsh caps over the years as 126, plus an incredible quota of British Lions - 47.

The club achieved an amazing feat in 1971 when seven players toured New Zealand with the Lions. Five of them appeared in all four tests - Gerald Davies, Mervyn Davies, JPR Williams, John Taylor and John Dawes. Full details HERE

Welsh Lions

When the league structure was introduced in 1987, Welsh started at the level they are now, but then suffered consecutive relegations in seasons two and three.

The 1990s saw the Exiles make it back up to the second tier, where they stabilised for 13 seasons, including surviving going into administration in 2009.

In 2011/12 London Welsh seized the moment, firstly on the field in the play-offs by defeating Bristol and Cornish Pirates, and then in the courtroom. By late June Welsh had successfully challenged the ruling that they could not take their place in the Premiership, staging their home games at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford and thereby meeting the Premiership's Minimum Standards Criteria.

Life in the Premiership is rarely easy for the promoted side, and the summer of uncertainty didn't help preparations for the Welsh, although they made a good fist of the first half of the season, winning four games. But after Christmas there was a five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, and there wasn't another win until it was too late, a final day success over nearest rivals Worcester


Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Oxford through the following channels:

  • Preview on BBC Radio Jersey on Friday from 5.30pm, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device)
  • Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
  • Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
  • Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon
  • Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm


The Greene King IPA Championship this weekend

Once the final whistle has blown at the Kassam, and perhaps even before, Jersey supporters will have an eye or ear (shades of Van Gogh?) out for events at Vallis Way, where bottom club Ealing must beat 10th-placed Nottingham to retain a realistic start of avoiding relegation. The game is a 3pm KO, and two hours later Moseley host Bristol at Billesley Common. The visitors have a poor recent record against Mose, but surely...

Sunday's games give Rotherham and Leeds the chance to seal their play-off places prior to the Yorkshire derby next weekend. Should either slip up, London Scottish could maintain their outside chance of fourth spot with a home win against Bedford.

Saturday April 12
Ealing v Nottingham 15:00
Moseley v Bristol 17:05 (Live on Sky Sports)

Sunday April 13
London Scottish v Bedford 14:00
Cornish Pirates v Rotherham 15:00
Leeds v Plymouth Albion, 15:00


And Finally

In other rugby in Jersey this weekend, the Jersey Athletic side conclude their season with a home game against Blackheath at 3pm on Saturday. It should be a good occasion - recent dry weather means the main pitch at St Peter will be available, and the visitors are making a trip of it by stopping over for some apres-match.

Visiting sides from the Midlands will make it a festival atmosphere at Grainville, with Banks Gents taking on Birstall RFC at 12noon and the Ladies taking on Stafford at 3pm. Birstall also have a game on Sunday, when they play LQ at 3pm, while earlier in the day the Doug Tranter final between Beeches and Jersey 2nds is set to take place at St Peter at 12.30pm (this latter match is TBC at the time of writing).

If a week is a long time in politics, as former PM Harold Wilson once said, then 496 days is a very long time in a rugby career. That's how long it's been since London Welsh centre Hudson Tonga'uiha has played, dating back to a shoulder injury when playing for Welsh in the Prem against London Irish in December 2012.

The 24-times capped Tongan (the clue's in the name) centre was set to return at the start of this season, but this time his achilles went and it's taken almost a whole season to get back in shape.

Hudson

Hudson (pictured above scoring a try against Leicester), whose real name is Kosilio, is set to feature against Jersey - a triumph for his persistence. All but the harshest Jersey fans may hope that he can mark his comeback by scoring one, if not two tries, while helping his side register one, if not two, bonus points in their defeat to the visiting Islanders.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby!

Tom Innes

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