A tough Christmas period for the Lions saw them start the new year on the back of a heavy defeat to a strong Grasshoppers team. Not the most ideal preparation for this rearranged fixture against second placed London Welsh 3rds, but a chance to reignite their season and fend of the chasing pack.
With the rain lashing down for hours before kick-off Graeme led a strong side for this must win game. Welsh kicked off with the ball bouncing behind the pack, Warwick collected the ball, bumping off and stepping a number of would be defenders before being tackled. Lions lost the ball from the resulting ruck. The Welsh possession in the Lions twenty two was retained for a large majority of the first half.
For twenty minutes the Welsh laid siege to the Lions try line and were only halted by brave defending by Welsh man Gareth and Warwick on the wing halting a number of Welsh’s attacks.
London Welsh’s pressure eventually resulted in a penalty and while the kick went wide, they eventually scored through their ten who darted over to the left of the posts but missed the conversion - Lions 0-5 Welsh
Another penalty for Welsh was awarded and kicked taking them 8 points ahead as half time loomed. This spurred Lions attack with number eight Gash making some destructive runs, that were ultimately halted.
Half time - Lions 0 London Welsh 8
In the second half, changes were made with Kini the colossal Fijian moved out of the pack and Lions talisman Dan Saxby on at Ten. With Saxby spear-heading the Lions attack, the Lions began to press up the field winning a number of penalties which scrum half Eddy kicked for field position. With the Lions gaining a foothold inside the Welsh twenty two, pressure built and Welsh two penalties followed. Saxby opted twice for the posts and twice Southern Paul converted bringing the score back to a narrow Welsh lead - Lions 6-8 Welsh.
As their lead narrowed, Welsh opted to kick rather than run on a pitch increasingly resembling a quagmire. However these kicks were ably run back or returned in kind by Irish Paul, JJ and Adam. This aerial back and forth was brought to an end by a bullocking run from Kini, which saw him crashing through the line with support running straight from the training feild. Graeme collected the offload from his toes and made his way to the line, an altogether unfamiliar sensation for the enigmatic, lead with the face, hooker who looked confused having rarely found himself with the ball approaching the line! A last ditch tackle stopped him short and Zak rucked over securing the ball for scrum half Eddy arriving to the break down who darted round to the right to score. A missed conversion saw Lions finally take the lead - Lions 11-8 Welsh.
Welsh managed to find touch from the kick off and using the line-out Welsh went through a number of phases to score to left of the posts, the kick converted and the lead changed again - Lions 11-15 Welsh.
The arrival of new player Jonny into the second row helped Lions gain the upper hand in the scrum. This was all the more impressive given Lions front row was made up of Shunt and Jim, normally more at home gently leaning on the back of the scrum. The games decisive moment came from a Welsh scrum deep in their half.
The renewed Lions scrummaging pressure saw Welsh retain the ball but disrupt enough that scrum half Angert raced around the scrum to hold up Welsh’s ten. Strong support from Southern Steve and Saxby at the maul, and eventually the whole pack drove Welsh back over the try line. Lions were awarded a scrum and their dominance continued resulting in Gash to crashing over the line from the base of the scrum to score, Southern Paul slotted the kick and the lead had been regained - Lions 18-15 Welsh.
With less than five minutes to go Lions kicked up field through Irish Paul and the resulting line-out saw Kini crashing through gain, but the ball slipped through his hands in the awful conditions.
With two minutes to go Lions missed a penalty to make the result safe and Welsh started one last ditch attack from under their posts. Strong running from Welsh saw them make progress up the right wing and but for some great Lions defence from Kini and Zak saw Welsh’s attack knock on and the referee blow for full-time.
The whistle saw Lions celebrating like they had won the league; but with four games to go and fifteen points separating Lions and Welsh it may prove decisive in the battle for the Championship.
In a brutal game in awful muddy conditions that saw the lead change 3 times, every player stood up, no one gave an inch, and the desire never to give up even when Welsh were camped on our line for the whole of the first half was the deciding factor.
Special mentions must go to Shunt, Graeme and Jim for holding up the pack and also to new man Jonny who added strength in the scrum.
Full Time - Whitton Lions 18 London Welsh 15
1 Shunt, 2 Graeme, 3 Jim
4 Hal 5 Zak
6 Gareth 7 Southern Steve 8 Gash
9 Eddy 10 Southern Paul
12 Angert 13 Adam
11 JJ 14 Warwick
15 Irish Paul
19 A Murph
MOM Eddy for moving the Lions down the field from scrum half with his kicking and his try.