Cornish Pirates 21-37 London Welsh, Championship Final, 1st leg
London Welsh power to victory over Pirates
May 23, 2012
Winger Joe Ajuwa grabbed one of London Welsh's tries as they powered to a first leg victory at Mennaye Field © Getty Images
London Welsh responded to being ruled unfit for promotion to the Aviva Premiership by powering to a 37-21 victory over Cornish Pirates in first leg of their RFU Championship Final clash at Mennaye Field.
Just hours after the Championship title contenders were told they had not met minimum standards criteria for Premiership entry, they stunned play-off opponents the Pirates. The Pirates must now recover from a 16-point deficit in next Wednesday's second leg at Kassam Stadium in Oxford to win Championship silverware.
London Welsh were in rampant mood, scoring tries through wings Joe Ajuwa and Nick Scott and centres Hudson Tonga'uiha and James Lewis, while full-back Alex Davies kicked 14 points and fly-half Gordon Ross dropped a goal.
But even if the Exiles prevail over two legs - as they now should - an even bigger battle looms off the pitch as only a successful appeal would overturn a decision confirmed by Rugby Football Union directors earlier today, unless the whole saga heads to court.
RFU directors ratified findings of a report carried out by independent auditors that identified various London Welsh failures, including not having primacy of tenure at their nominated Premiership ground - the 12,500-capacity Kassam Stadium. The Pirates did not choose to have an independent audit of their Mennaye Field ground, so were therefore ineligible for promotion.
As things stand, it means London Welsh will not go up even if they triumph next week, while Premiership bottom club Newcastle can look forward to another season among English club rugby's elite.
London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips confirmed before the game that all possible avenues were being considered, although no official appeal has yet been confirmed. The Exiles have 14 days in which to lodge a protest, but that all becomes irrelevant if Pirates successfully turn the tie on its head.
The Pirates, semi-final conquerors of Bristol, justified their favourites' tag by storming into an early lead through a try from wing Gavin Pointer that fullback Rob Cook converted. But London Welsh then scored 23 unanswered points, helped by Pirates fly-half Ceiron Thomas being sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, as Ajuwa touched down and Davies' conversion followed two earlier penalties.
It was a shot across the Pirates' bow, and worse was to come when Ajuwa's fellow wing Scott powered over before Davies slotted another conversion and Ross dropped a goal. The Pirates had it all to do approaching half-time, but a penalty try awarded by referee Greg Garner against London Welsh's scrum cut the gap to 23-14 as Cook converted.
The hosts looked to assert territorial control after the break, yet a scoreless third quarter meant they remained up against it before Welsh struck twice in two minutes through Tonga'uiha and Lewis, which finished off their hosts despite flanker Phil Burgess' consolation effort that Cook improved.
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