GREENE KING IPA CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY–OFFS
London Welsh 29 (tries Kirwan, Stegmann, Stedman; con Ross; pens Ross 4)
Leeds Carnegie 20 (tries McColl, Beech; cons Hughes, Lozowski; pens Lozowski 2)
Welsh win 60-58 on aggregate
GORDON Ross held his nerve to send London Welsh into the play-off final with a late penalty that capped an afternoon of pure drama at the Kassam Stadium.
The fly half and player-coach had a mixed day with the boot, but struck when it mattered to seal a 29-20 victory – 60-58 on aggregate.
Welsh will now face Bristol in a two-legged final for a place in the Premiership, with the first clash in Oxford on Wednesday, May 28.
This scenario looked highly unlikely when Leeds led 20-14 (58-45) with 20 minutes to go – especially as Welsh had flanker Carl Kirwan in the sin-bin.
But the Exiles’ spirit was phenomenal and they roared back by sheer force of will.
Two tries in four minutes from wing Seb Stegmann and No 8 Ollie Stedman, with Ross converting the former, put them one point behind on aggregate.
Ross did the rest to send a crowd of 2,324, Welsh’s largest of the season, into raptures.
Ross’s afternoon began with a kick-off straight into touch and his side were penalised at the resulting scrum.
His opposite number Glyn Hughes, who landed nine from nine in the first leg, scuffed his kick wide.
Welsh responded well, with a series of forward drives setting up Ross for an easy penalty and the opening points.
Leeds ran the ball with purpose and had a chance to level on 12 minutes, but Hughes snatched his penalty wide.
Buoyed by this, Welsh enjoyed a spell of real pressure, which culminated in Kirwan powering through on a great line to score the opening try on 20 minutes.
Ross could not convert and Leeds immediately replied, with full back Stevie McColl running in a soft try that referee Greg Garner awarded after consulting with his TMO.
Hughes converted and it was advantage to the visitors again.
Leeds’ commitment to flowing rugby backfired when captain Jacob Rowan took a risky 22-drop out. His side ended up being penalised and Ross made it 11-7.
The Exiles should have had a second try on the left, but full back Alan Awcock could not take centre Seb Jewell’s pass.
Such was the pace of Leeds’ counter-attack that they won a penalty inside the Welsh half in a matter of seconds, but Hughes missed the relatively simple kick.
Welsh had the first chance of the second half, but Ross missed a similar penalty to Hughes’s before the break.
On loan prop Tom Bristow, an unused replacement for Leicester in Friday’s Premiership semi-final, completed a busy weekend by coming on for Nathan Trevett in Welsh’s front row.
There was a long delay while Leeds centre Rob Vickerman was stretchered off.
Ross missed another sitter before finally landing one to level the tie, but Hughes’s replacement, Alex Lozowski, immediately replied in kind.
Lozowski was on target again after Kirwan was sin-binned for obstruction in what initially looked a tough call, but replays suggested was correct.
That seemed to swing the game as Leeds soon scored a second try, Charlie Beech supporting superbly to go over on the left.
Lozowski’s conversion made it 20-14 and left Welsh needing two converted tries.
The Exiles refused to give up and went close through flanker-turned-lock Pete Browne, whose surge took him just short.
Play went back for a penalty, which Ross kicked for the right corner.
Within seconds, Welsh had the ball on the other side of the field and Stegmann showed great determination to twist over.
Having missed many far easier kicks, Ross converted from the touchline.
Leeds barely had time to digest this before another wave of Welsh pressure ended with Stedman finishing off try No 3.
Ross could not convert, but the momentum was with the hosts.
Sheer force of character earned Welsh a penalty in front of the posts – and Ross made no mistake.
There was still time for Welsh to knock-on from the kick-off and concede a scrum.
Leeds looked to set up a drop goal for Lozowski, but he fumbled and Ross was able to kick for touch and the celebrations could begin.
London Welsh: Awcock (J Lewis 65), Stegmann, May (capt), Jewell, Scott, Ross, Keats (Cook 39), Trevett (Bristow 47), Morris (Vella 62), Edwards (Tideswell 59), Spencer (Quill 53), Corker, P Browne (West 68), Kirwan, Stedman.
Leeds Carnegie: McColl, Holmes, Vickerman (Georgiou 47), Burdon, D Doherty, Hughes (Lozowski 41), J Doherty, Beech (Imiolek 73) Nilsen (Graham 63), Tussac, (Hooper 73) Beck (Walker 49), Myerscough, Sisi, Rowan (capt), Burrows (Green 73).
Referee: G Garner (RFU).