Jersey 26, London Welsh 33
London Welsh moved back to the top of the Greene King IPA Championship tabletable although the Exiles had to withstand a spirited fight-back from the home side at St Peter on Saturday.
It was a welcome return to winning ways for Justin Burnell’s side, after consecutive league defeats to London Scottish and Bedford Blues, and condemned the home side to a sixth straight loss.
It seemed at one stage that Welsh might canter to a bonus point victory. Niall O’Connor’s penalty had seen the home side strike first, only for the visitors to hit back through tries from Mitch Lees, Joe Ajuwa and Mike Denbee.
With fly half Alex Davies adding all three conversions the Exiles built up a healthy 21-6 lead with half-time approaching.
However, Jack Burroughs’ opportunistic try rekindled Jersey hopes and when O’Connor added his third penalty upon the resumption, just five points separated the sides.
The boot of Davies, though, steadied the Welsh ship, with the Exiles’ No 10 landing four penalties, separated only by another strike from O’Connor.
However, the Exiles were left to face an uncomfortable final seven minutes when Ollie Stedman’s yellow card was followed by a penalty try for the home side. But Welsh saw the game out to leapfrog Bristol at the top of the table.
With first use of the wind, the home side made the perfect start when Irishman O’Connor landed an early minute penalty from close to half-way.
Exiles quickly composed themselves and replied through a try from Lees.
When the home side were penalised at a scrum, Alan Awcock saw an opportunity to attack down the blindside and a couple of missed tackles ended with Lees crossing. Davies converted.
The Exiles were beginning to look dangerous and soon added another try.
Tom May was held up just short, but Ajuwa is a tough man to stop from close range and the winger forced his way over. Again Davies added the extras.
O’Connor missed one penalty, but made amends soon afterwards when Welsh were penalised at a scrum.
Welsh’s response was swift. They set up a driving maul, and the way to the tryline suddenly opened up for Denbee, and the flanker burst clear to score his side’s third try. Davies’ conversion saw Welsh open up a healthy looking 21-6 lead.
Indeed, it was the home side that finished the half the stronger. A spell of late pressure saw O’Connor keep Welsh pinned in their own 22 .
The visitors looked as if they’d soaked up the best that Jersey could muster, only to be undone by a quickly taken lineout – Grant Pointer’s back-of-the-hand pass releasing Burroughs to cross for his first try for Jersey.
O’Connor added an excellent conversion and Welsh’s lead had been reduced to 21-13 at the break.
O’Connor’s third penalty, six minutes into the second half, was just reward for the home side’s bright opening and the gap was now down to just five.
Welsh fly half Davies landed four penalties – sandwiching a fourth penalty from O’Connor – as the visitors stretched their lead to 14 points and looked to have made the game safe.
Late on, Jersey that built up a head of steam.
That endeavour saw the home side held up over the Welsh tryline and the pressure was enough to persuade referee Greg Macdonald to brandish a yellow card in the direction of Stedman.
Jersey made sure they made their numerical advantage tell, with Macdonald awarding the home side a penalty try.
Coupled with O’Connor’s conversion the stage was now set for a gripping finale.
But the Exiles saw out the time remaining without undue alarm to go two points clear of Rotherham at the top.
Jersey: Burroughs, Pointer, Locke, Bishop, Foster, O’Connor, Williams, Fidler (McCarthy 43), Taione, Young (Selway 79), Campbell (Markham 66), Rae (capt), Buckle, Silcock, Maidment (Mafaaki 63). Reps not used: Felton, Dudley.
London Welsh: Jewell, Stegmann, Awcock, May (capt), Ajuwa (Scott 68), Davies (Robinson 71), Cook, Trevett (Moss 66), Morris (Vella 59), Tideswell (Edwards 66), Lees (West 79), Browne, Kirwan, Denbee (Thorpe 59), Stedman.
Referee: G Macdonald