|Date||4 November 2017|
|Opposition||London Welsh Druids|
|Venue||Bank of England Sports Centre|
|Result||L 23 - 25|
|Time played||Normal time|
Few matches are surrounded by the expectation and hype attached to the visit of London Welsh. Much has been written about the troubles of the last few years for this proud club. Now in division 9 and facing the league leaders, Bank of England, the stage was set for a monumental clash, and the players certainly did not disappoint.
After a soggy November morning, Bank Lane saw the Welsh faithful arrive in their hundreds to line a damp but otherwise pristine pitch. Getting the game underway, it was immediately clear what kind of rugby the away side had come to play. A pack bolstered by recent changes packed a considerable punch, disrupting the usually well-oiled exits of the Bank side.
Outweighed by some margin, the Bank pack struggled in the first few scrums, leading to a penalty just 7 minutes in. Stepping up to the mark, the Welsh fly-half began a rather torrid day at the office with a relatively simple miss.
In reply, Bank started to find their feet and use the attacking prowess that had served them so well in their unbeaten league run to date. Testing darts from Spencer and Brewin asked questions of the Welsh in open play. When Welsh had the ball in hand, they played confident but basic rugby, admittedly bending the game to their strengths. Kicking ably into the corner, the Welsh 10 garnered valuable territory for the away side. From one such kick, Bank lost the resulting line out and were shunted over all too easily for the opening try. A missed conversion made it 0-5 halfway through the first half.
After a period of improved play by Bank, they found themselves again pinned back by a Welsh backline with a strategic kicking game. Territory again led to points for Welsh. A lost scrum saw the Welsh number 8 dotting down with relative ease. 0-12 with ten minutes remaining this half.
After a rousing huddle under the posts, Bank turned things around as they always seem able to do. A reversion to structured phaseplay saw the Welsh starting to fracture in defence. Second row pairing Dale and Johnson were like a deranged pair of Rhinos, crossing the gainline at will. Feeling real pressure, the Welsh discipline started to erode. Swinging arms and high tackles aplenty, it was only a matter of time before Bank flyhalf James Marshall was able to slot 3 points from the tee.
Bank did well to not let up the pressure at this point. Hard runs from the Bank pack led to a visibly tiring and sloppy Welsh defensive. The last play before the break saw Ed Waite slice through the fringes to make 30 metres and set up a well taken try from hooker Nelson-Esch on the next phase. 8-12 at half-time and the match truly on a knife edge.
The Bank backline began the second half with wonderful attacking intent. Wingers Farr and Spencer went on useful darts through the Welsh line, with Elderton making two clean breaks, only to be pulled back for unfortunate forward passes. Still though, Bank struggled against a very capable Welsh set piece. 10 minutes into the half, Welsh capitalised on a succession of penalties on the Bank 5 metre line to take the scrum option and eventually push over for a try. Left unconverted, Welsh led 17-8 with 25 minutes remaining.
Bank restarted well and ably reverted to the same phaseplay that served them so well in the first period. Bruising runs by Brewin and Dale sucked in a reeling Welsh defence to allow prop Shaun Pollock to take a neat try in the right hand corner. A marginal miss from Marshall with the conversion left the score at 13-17.
Not wanting to be left out, the Bank backline really started to click after a successful exit from the restart. Within almost no time at all, Will Spencer produced a moment of pure magic to scythe through the centre of the Welsh backline and cross the line under the posts. With extras duly added, Bank were ahead for the first time in the match, 20-17. With one fell swoop, a hugely vocal Welsh crowd had been somewhat silenced.
Further good omens followed for the home side when Welsh again reverted to ill discipline under concerted pressure. First to fall victim was former Ospreys prop Cai Griffiths, given his marching orders with 15 minutes remaining. Marsh stepped up to take the points on offer, extending the Bank lead to 23-17.
What followed was undoubtedly some of the most tense and downright nerve-wracking rugby in Bank’s long history.
Both sides were pining for territory and thus safety, but Bank were themselves now falling foul to silly penalties as the result of tiring bodies. Welsh again turned to their forwards and pinned the ball to the corner. Despite desperate efforts from the home side, Welsh crashed over from the resultant maul with 4 minutes remaining. A narrowly missed conversion saw the score sit at 23-22 and the home support decidedly on edge.
During the next couple of minutes, Bank failed to capitalise on territory and found themselves pinned inside their own half. With ever tiring players and a defence increasingly more desperate, a moment of madness had Bank supporters with their heads in their hands. A penalty to Welsh, just under 40 metres out and relatively straight. Having taken over kicking duties, the Welsh 15 stepped up and slotted it with the last kick of the game.
Jubilant scenes amongst the away faithful were met with sheer disbelief and desolation by the Bank players. London Welsh had snatched a victory, 25 -23.
Although crushing to lose in such a manner, there are certainly a whole host of positives to take forward. Such was the quality of the game, man of the match honours had to be split between the on-form Spencer, the tireless Ed Waite and mercurial Marshall. Also, with a losing bonus point, Bank retain the top spot in the league, just ahead of London Welsh and Royston.
Bank Lane witnessed a truly great match this weekend. The pride and passion on display by both sides was quite simply a credit to Rugby and a credit to the long and proud history of both clubs.