Justin Burnell praised the commitment and character of his London Welsh side after they overturned a 13-point aggregate deficit, with just 12 minutes remaining, to set up a Championship final showdown with Bristol as their pursuit of Premiership rugby continues.
Following their 38-31 defeat to Leeds at Headingley Carnegie the previous week, the Exiles started Sunday’s second leg at the Kassam Stadium seven points adrift.
Their promotion hopes looked to have been shot when Charlie Beech slid over to give the visitors a 20-14 lead, and a 13-point buffer.
However, the Exiles bounced back in the dying stages as Seb Stegmann crossed the whitewash and Gordon Ross converted and added the match-winning penalty after Ollie Stedman flew over the line.
“When you get two good teams it can go either way, but like I’ve said from day one, we’re a resilient bunch,” Burnell told the club’s official website. “We never roll over and in that last 20 we just seemed to get better. There was no panic whatsoever.
“That’s what we’re about. There’s a special breed here and a good mixture. We’ve a couple of northerners in there and a couple of Welsh lads and they’ve just been brought up to work hard.
“We want success, we want to be a good team, but the only way you’ll get that is by rolling them sleeves up and punching your guts out.”
Welsh fly-half Ross had endured a turbulent day from the kicking tee before he lined up the 78th minute penalty, but Burnell claims he never lacked faith in his assistant coach.
“He’s a quality player; everyone has a bad day,” he added. “You don’t get 30-odd international caps and play for the length he has with Saracens, Leeds and Castres….he was always going to kick it. People around me were asking ‘should he kick for the corner?’”
Welsh now face a two-legged final against table-topping Bristol, starting with a first leg showdown at the Kassam Stadium on May 28, before a return leg a week later at the Memorial Stadium.
“We knew what we had to do today – seven points – and now it’s all back here for the 1st leg against Bristol, which is exciting. It’s going to be interesting - we can’t wait,” Burnell said.
“And what a fantastic atmosphere there was today. It was good to see the stadium come to life. When we rocked up to see all the kids outside enjoying themselves just goes to prove what we can achieve in Oxford.”