Welsh must put on perfect show to upset Pirates
Mennaye Field hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Gordon Ross or London Welsh in recent visits, but both will need to reverse that trend, or as near as, if the Exiles are to move a step closer to the Championship title.
Welsh head to Cornwall for Wednesday’s 1st leg of the Championship final double-header with the Pirates having lost on their last three visits to the ground.
That losing run includes last season’s 18-10 semi-final defeat, with the Pirates going on to contest the final with Worcester Warriors.
The sides’ meeting in January at Mennaye Field produced a comfortable 27-6 win for the Pirates on a miserable afternoon on the south-west coast. It was a game which also saw Ross see yellow.
“The last three times we’ve been down there in the league we haven’t performed, we’ve been really disappointing,” said Ross.
“We’ve been in and out of the game but not put together a performance for 80 minutes.
“The one thing the Pirates do is they come at you for 80 minutes, they don’t give you any space or time.
“We’ve got to make sure that for 80 minutes we’re nice and proactive and ready for that challenge, and hopefully we can put our game together and challenge their defence.
“I’ve not had a great time down at Pirates personally, but that’s up to me to sort out.
"I’m hoping to take inspiration from the big football game last Saturday - Hearts beating Hibs 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final.”
If they are to do that, however, the Exiles will have to succeed where Bristol failed on the same ground where the Championship favourites succumbed 45-24, having conceded five tries and 19 points in the final 12 minutes.
“They were relentless; 14-0 down in the first half other sides might have crumbled, but they just stuck to their plans and they backed themselves. They just kept going at Bristol,” said 34-year-old Ross, who won 25 caps for Scotland.
“The Pirates really challenged them; they were physical, they were high energy and it’s up to us to make sure we can match that.
“They’re very well drilled, they do the basics well and they’ve also got two or three very creative players. There’s no weakness in their team - they’re a very good rugby side.
“But we believe in our ability and they way we’ve performed the last two or three months. Hopefully we can put a performance together down there and really challenge them.”
The 21-point deficit proved too much for Bristol to claw back in the return leg at the Memorial Stadium.
Welsh, meanwhile, would endure a nervier passage to the final, as they let slip a 17-point lead over the Blues before eventually prevailing 30-27 on aggregate.
“It was relief rather than celebration. We’re an honest bunch and we were a bit disappointed with the way we played in the second half,” said Ross.
"The mindset perhaps wasn’t quite as good as it should have been. In the first half Bedford didn’t know what to do at times.
"In the second half we played into their hands, we gave them a lot of possession and invited them to come at us.
“The first 20 minutes after the game the guys were a bit down, but then we realised what we’d achieved this season. To get to the final is a massive achievement - we finished fourth in the league.”
Welsh had laid the groundwork for their semi-final victory with a 13-3 win at Goldington Road, and when Nick Scott crossed in the second half at Old Deer Park and Alex Davies added his fourth penalty the Exiles led 17-10.
However, tries from Don Barrell and Neil Cochrane ensured a tense finish at Old Deer Park.
“At half-time we were pretty happy. We’d played a lot of good rugby and created two or three good scoring opportunities and we believe that if we’d taken one of them then it might have put Bedford away,” said Ross.
“But we weren’t as clinical as we’d liked to have been and fair play to them they attacked very well in the second half, and we did well to hang on in there.”
Welsh will need to take what chances come their way on Wednesday, but they can travel to Mennaye Field quietly confident given their recent form on the road.
The Exiles’ win over the Blues at Goldington Road having been preceded by play-off wins at Nottingham and Doncaster and a draw at Bristol.
“We started playing some of our best attacking rugby of the season [in the play-offs], we mixed up our game well and our set piece has been quite good,” said Ross.
“Our challenge in these big games is we’re only going to get one or two chances, but if we can take them hopefully it will be enough.”
As for the return leg at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford on May 30, Ross is looking forward to the prospect.
"It will be exciting; we love playing down at Old Deer Park, it’s a great venue and a great pitch. The Kassam is something; hopefully the Welsh fans can get up there as it should be a good atmosphere,” he said.