Exiles race to 19-point lead
London Welsh took a giant stride towards securing an immediate return to the Aviva Premiership with a 27-8 victory over Bristol in the first leg of the Championship play-off final at the Kassam Stadium on Wednesday night.
Nathan Trevett, Nick Scott and Carl Kirwan all touched down as Justin Burnell's side amassed a 19-point lead ahead of the return leg, which will be the final match ever to be played at the Memorial Ground.
A Marco Mama try put Bristol in front before they conceded 24 unanswered points before Adrian Jarvis added a penalty in the dying stages of the match, which saw Andy Robinson's side handed a hammer blow with the loss of Wales international Ryan Jones, who looks almost certain to miss the second leg.
After Bristol took an early lead, the hosts soon gained the upper hand in a first half marred by the departure of Jones, whose exit subdued the Kassam Stadium atmosphere somewhat.
Flanker Mama shot the visitors in front as Bristol drove a line-out maul over the whitewash, although Nicky Robinson was unable to add extras.
Their lead proved short-lived however as Welsh responded in very similar fashion, with prop Trevett touching down after they forced a maul over the line. Gordon Ross was on target with the conversion as the capital side took the lead.
With Bristol's bright start thoroughly extinguished, the Exiles exposed their lack of concentration as hooker Nathan Morris made a strong break before offloading to Scott, who accelerated away over 40 metres to touch down their second try in three minutes.
Then came the horror moment which saw former British and Irish Lion Jones suffer what appeared to be a bad ankle injury and referee Wayne Barnes' decision to immediately halt play highlighted the severity of the blow, which saw the Bristol captain stretched off.
Scrum-half Luke Baldwin soon followed Jones to the medical room as Bristol's resources continued to be stretched and they went into the break 12 points down after Ross added a penalty with the final kick of the half.
The Exiles continued to compound Bristol's woes following the restart as they registered the all-important opening score of the second period.
With the line-out set up inside the Bristol 22 the Welsh pack charged over once more and Kirwan claimed the score, which Ross duly converted to give the hosts a 19-point lead.
Welsh, who finished eight points adrift of table-topping Bristol in regular season, remained in the ascendancy throughout the second half and Ross was invited to extend their lead even further with 10 minutes to play.
The hosts worked their way through the phases and approached the Bristol line, where Nick Koster deliberately held up play and he trudged to the sin-bin, while Ross slotted the penalty with ease.
Burnell's side were content to allow scrum resets to run the clock down, but when they conceded a penalty replacement kicker Jarvis slotted Bristol's only points of the second half as they reduced their arrears to 19 ahead of the return fixture.
You can watch the second leg live on Sky Sports 1HD from 7:30pm on June 4