Watford's Welsh Woe
Watford started their league campaign in HM1 with a narrow defeat against London Welsh.
London Welsh had re-formed following on from the sad demise of the professional club earlier in the year, taking the place of it’s Druids team in Herts Middlesex 1. A well publicised 5 year plan to return the club to its former glories in the upper echelons of English rugby, an experienced coaching team including ex Wales centre Sonny Parker and ex Ospreys prop Cai Griffiths alongside articles in the national press (we even got a mention in the Telegraph!) meant that we knew we were the underdogs.
Add to this a fairly extensive list of unavailable players (Butcher, Dunners, Radish, Sanchez, Andy Lee, Gary Wilson, Silver, Holloway) and the last minute withdrawal of fly half Simon Bram, on paper Watford shouldn’t have stood a chance.
Thankfully rugby isn’t played on paper.
On a day where the weather was inconsistent at best, Watford emerged from the changing rooms to a large, vocal crowd (many of whom were supporting Welsh). Thankfully the Watford contingent were in fine voice themselves, Paul Wilson kicking off in one of the best atmospheres Radlett Road had seen in years.
Unfortunately for the home side, a nervy opening 5 minutes saw London Welsh open the scoring through man of the match Lloyd Davies who converted his own try for 0-7.
We didn’t let this rattle us, and slowly ground our way into the game. Despite the absentees, Watford managed to stick to the game plan we had been working on during the off season and were enjoying a fair degree of success in getting over the gain line when our ball carriers hit space. Defensively, the team were barely recognisable from the side who lost at Pinner a fortnight earlier. Renewed focus in previous training sessions on the work the side need to do without the ball was paying dividends with nowhere near the number of holes in our line that there had been previously. Along with this some monstrous hits were being put in by both sides, the battle for territory being fiercely contested.
Watford’s set piece was in the ascendancy, Mike Jenkins having a great game disrupting Welsh ball at the lineout while Bees and Flint had the upper hand at scrum time. This meant man of the match Richard Yates, playing for the second time ever at fly half and for the first time in the 1st XV had a solid platform with which to work. Watford nearly opened their account for the afternoon after a fine break from Josh Wilkinson, the centre fly hacking through but narrowly losing the foot race to dot down.
The home side were not to be denied however, winning a free kick on the Welsh 22 after a London Welsh infringement at the scrum. No 8 Martin Lee tapped and went, being hauled down 5 metres short. Pitsialis picked and drove followed by Lee who was able to reach out and dot down. Wilkinson agonisingly hit the post with his conversion, 5-7 to London Welsh.
Having conceded, Welsh came back strongly and enjoyed a concerted period of possession and territory. The pressure eventually told, Welsh scoring having turned the ball over after a big hit in the midfield to give Davies his second 7 pointer of the afternoon.
With time running out in the half, Watford won another scrum penalty and opted to go for the corner. Unfortunately for Watford the subsequent 5m lineout didn’t go to hands bringing half time and a 9 point deficit – 5-14 to London Welsh.
The half time message was clear. Keep on playing to our strengths, maintain the defensive intensity and try to keep the game in Welsh territory.
Scoring opportunities were at a minimum for both sides in the second period, though the visitors certainly enjoyed the greater share of territory and possession. Watford defended stoically and whilst the defensive line was at times stretched the whitewash was never crossed. Fine work from McClennon, Hammill and Greyling kept us in touch, Paul Wilson regularly easing pressure with clearing kicks.
Credit to the visitors who played intelligent rugby, regularly pinning Watford back with precise kicks to the corners. Thankfully for us the Welsh lineout misfired on a couple of promising occasions, Captain luke hammill mopping up from overthrows and making good ground up the field.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for Watford during the second period (other than the clean sheet) was their discipline. Penalties within range were pretty much non existent if memory serves correctly, whilst London Welsh had a man sent to the bin for persistent offending.
With the last play indicated, Wilkinson made a surging break from his own half, finding himself two on one with Tom Gordon outside him. Unfortunately for Watford, the pass didn’t go to hand and the game came to an end with both sets of players out on their feet after a fine, hard fought contest. On the balance of things, London Welsh deserved the victory though Watford were certainly worthy of a losing bonus point.
Next game is away to Barnet, 15:000 kick off.
MOTM – Richard Yates. Second game at fly half, first in the 1st XV. Solid defence and distribution.
WOTW - Mark Hill. Mouthed off after Watford had won a penalty, turning possession over. Then was rude to Hammill. Proper naughty.