Rugby: Dick Straughan's view on the Cornish Pirates defeat at London Welsh.
NIGHTS like this one were always bound to happen this season and after such a promising start to the season, the Cornish Pirates were brought back down to earth with a bump by a clinical London Welsh side.
Perhaps I too readily and wrongly dismissed the Exiles as serious promotion contenders, because having also recently watched Bristol and Leeds, the Welsh are a level above those two.
Ian Davies summed it up perfectly after the game when he described London Welsh as playing "Premiership rugby in the Championship". They do on the basis of Saturday's performance. You cannot argue with that.
It isn't flamboyant fare they offer, or any degree of high-risk rugby. The Welsh simply grind you down with a big, physical and experienced pack before inviting fly-half Gordon Ross to conduct the orchestra that is the backs – another physical, experienced and imposing unit.
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London Welsh made few mistakes, prompting head coach Justin Burnell to describe their performance as "fantastic". When they did cough the ball up they invariably retrieved it, whereas the Pirates were punished virtually every time their accuracy deserted them. That is what the quality teams do.
Heavy defeats hurt players, coaches and fans alike, but there was a realism from all in the Pirates camp which tempered the pain of this reverse. The principal gripes from the fans concerned the facilities at the Kassam Stadium and the matchday experience – a phrase we have become accustomed to hearing in Pirate land.
I like the Kassam. From a media perspective it has decent facilities in order for you to do your job and a good view. That is all I need.
It is, however, a soccer stadium, not a rugby ground, in a foreign city as far as many Welsh fans are concerned with an atmosphere as far away from that of their spiritual base at Old Deer Park in south west London, as it is possible to be. And therein lies the conundrum for the club.
They moved to the Kassam in order to play in the Premiership. They did, but were relegated and want to get back there at the first attempt. To do that they must continue plying their trade on "foreign shores", producing a winning team and enduring all the criticism about poor marketing, low crowds, bad facilities and lack of a 'proper' rugby club atmosphere.
London Welsh are caught between a rock and a hard place and I feel sorry for them to a degree. It seems as if every aspirational club in this league has to sell some of its soul to play Premiership rugby, and if you don't believe me, watch the letters page in this newspaper fill up the next time the Cornish Pirates leave Penzance.
So I wish the Welsh well in their quest for promotion and look forward to the Pirates backlash as they face up to more capital Celts on Friday night. This time it is London Scottish, who still play in London, and it is officially the last Friday night home game at the Mennaye. Until the goalposts move again I suspect.