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London Welsh 25, Exeter Chiefs 24
LONDON Welsh picked up their first Aviva Premiership victory in dramatic circumstances at the Kassam Stadium yesterday.
A late try from Ed Jackson and Seb Jewell’s conversion saw the Exiles pip Exeter in a grandstand finish and climb to ninth in the table.
Having trailed 14-0 after just 11 minutes, Welsh showed great character and no little skill to fight back and just about shaded a tight con-test.
Exeter, whose former Chinnor and now England flanker Tom Johnson was stretchered off with a rib injury in the second half, could not hit the heights they had shown in their opening two matches.
But much credit should go to Welsh, who did a great deal to force errors from the Chiefs.
The only disappointment was a crowd of 3,150 – well below the 6,850 who watched their opening defeat to Leicester.
Such was the paucity of spectators that the North and East stands were left empty and no figure was officially announced, but those who stayed away missed a cracker.
The match paired brothers Tom and Luke Arscott as opposing full backs and it was Exeter’s Luke, who struck the first blow.
Welsh started strongly, moving the ball with purpose and won a five-metre scrum in the fourth minute.
But they failed to secure possession and Exeter wing Matt Jess snaffled an interception to race clear.
Chiefs quickly went right where Luke Arscott had plenty of space to finish, fly half Ignacio Mieres converting for a 7-0 lead.
Things soon got worse when Exeter’s Fijian international centre, Sireli Naqelevuki, broke through some soft tackling to set up Jess for try No 2, Mieres again converting.
Welsh had not done that much wrong to trail 14-0 and hit back almost immediately via a penalty try on 15 minutes.
The Exiles’ line-out functioned well and their rolling maul even better.
Exeter cyncially brought the maul down, with hooker Chris Whitehead the chief culprit, and referee Dave Pearson was quick to march under the posts – although Whitehead escaped a yellow card.
Welsh fly half Gordon Ross converted and they had hope again.
Flanker Mike Denbee hobbled off with an ankle injury, which meant Alfie To’oala came on at No 8 for Welsh to great effect.
The Exiles were handed a present on 24 minutes when wing Nick Scott intercepted Whitehead’s pass and motored up the left touchline for a 70-metre try.
From 14-0 down, Welsh were right back in it at 14-12 and playing with much more purpose.
Ross missed a penalty on the half-hour mark, which would have given the Exiles a lead they could scarcely have dreamed of 20 minutes before.
But he made no mistake when Chiefs were penalised at a scrum seven metres out.
Naqelevuki’s power made him a constant threat, but Exeter lacked precision and Welsh were up for the battle.
The Exiles began the second half well, but wasted an overlap on the left after hooker Neil Briggs’s sharp break.
Exeter, however, raised their game up front and No 8 Richard Baxter burrowed over from close range on 51 minutes, with Mieres converting.
Ross replied with a penalty then Welsh got lucky as Mieres missed an easy three-pointer.
Exeter’s Johnson was looking increasingly influential before he was stretchered off in the 57th minute.
Welsh’s scrum had been fairly solid, but they were penalised on their own put-in after 62 minutes and replacement fly half Gareth Steenson slotted the kick for 24-18.
The Exiles were still full of endeavour and centre Sonny Parker went close after rounding his opposite number Naqelevuki.
But the monster Fijian did much better to stop Welsh’s Tongan centre Hudson Tonga’uiha in his tracks.
Exeter replacement prop Carl Rimmer showed great pace to accelerate through a gap on 73 minutes, but his pass went into touch.
That ultimately proved crucial as flanker Jackson forced his way over with three minutes after a series of phases and replacement fly half Seb Jewell kicked the winning conversion.