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RUGBY UNION: London Welsh beaten in opener
London Welsh 13 (tries Arscott, Tonga’uiha; pen Ross),
Leicester Tigers 38 (tries Waldrom 2, Parling, Salvi, Goneva; cons Flood 5; pen Flood)
ALTHOUGH outclassed, London Welsh emerged with some credit from their Aviva Premiership debut at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium .
It was just over two months ago that the Exiles finally learned they would play top-flight rugby after winning their appeal against an RFU ruling.
And the fear was that they would be whipping boys – especially against such established opponents as Leicester.
But on their first appearance at English rugby’s top table, they did enough to give their fans some hope for the season ahead and showed the sort of spirit that will be vital in their quest to stay up.
Leicester were worthy winners, but both their second-half tries had hints of forward passes about them and Welsh captain Jon Mills missed a trick by not asking them to be referred to the television match official (TMO) as the new rules now allow.
The only major negative from Welsh was their sloppy line-out, which head coach Lyn Jones highlighted afterwards and Leicester’s Geoff Parling and Rob Andrew exploited.
Some 6,850 turned up at the Kassam Stadium, with a large number of them travelling Leicester supporters – and they were offered an entertaining curtain-raiser to Premiership rugby in Oxford.
Leicester fly half Toby Flood and his opposite number Gordon Ross traded missed penalties early on, but Tigers definitely had the edge.
England No 10 Flood was successful with his second penalty on eight minutes as Welsh looked nervy, kicking away possession twice.
Leicester created space with a flowing move on the left and England No 8 Thomas Waldrom finished in the corner on 14 minutes.
Flood converted well and it looked as if the scores would keep coming.
There was a flashpoint after a high tackle by Welsh wing Joe Ajuwa on Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, but Tigers power showed again when Waldrom was driven over on 22 minutes.
Welsh responded immediately, with prop Franck Montanella almost getting over, but it was not long before full back Tom Arscott had just enough momentum to score their maiden Premiership try.
The Exiles were visibly lifted and capitalised on some possible Tigers complacency as centre Hudson Tonga’uiha scampered down the right to make it 17-10 at the break.
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill cannot have been happy at half-time – and his side responded with try No 3 just two minutes after the interval.
England lock Parling ended up with an easy finish after Welsh were outflanked and Flood converted.
Ross slotted a penalty for his first successful kick of the afternoon, but it was 31-13 on 50 minutes when flanker Julian Salvi powered over from close range, Flood converting.
The gulf between the two sides was further illustrated by the replacements Tigers could bring on such as Italy prop Marin Castrogiovanni, plus England internationals George Chuter and Jordan Crane.
And the scoreline widened too when some precise passing gave wing Vereneki Goneva half a yard of space to motor down the left wing on 62 minutes, Flood converting for 38-13.
You wondered if Welsh would fade and their scrum was creaking by the end, but the Exiles’ spirit carried them through to the final whistle without further damage.
London Welsh: Arscott, MacKenzie, Parker, Tonga’uiha, Ajuwa, Ross (Jewell 73), Holmes (Runciman 65), Montanella (Bateman 57), Briggs, Ion (Joly 77), Mills (capt), Kulemin (Bristow 57), Williamson
(To’ala 58), Beach (Purdy 57), Browne.
Leicester Tigers: Murphy (capt), Hamilton, Tuilagi, Allen, Goneva, Flood (Ford 66), Young (Harrison 23), Mulipola (Stankovich 54), T Youngs (Chuter 60), Cole (Castrogiovanni 54), Andrew, Parling, Mafi (Deacon 66), Salvi, Waldrom (Crane 56).
Referee: J Doyle (London)