Forty-point tallies being the order of the opening Premiership weekend – poor old Wasps manage to register this considerable total and still lose – the odds about Leicester keeping pace were very short indeed. Come to think of it, why should they stop at 40? How about a nice half-century to set the ball rolling? Or 60? Or 70? After all, it was only London Welsh they were playing: a tier-two club who were not awarded tier-one status until every top-tier player had been contracted up to the eyeballs by rival teams.
In keeping the Tigers down to 30-odd, the newcomers emerged, not triumphant exactly, but with their pride intact. They edged the second quarter of the game, during which they scored tries through the full-back Tom Arscott and the centre Hudson Tonga'uiha, and even at the back-end of the contest, when Leicester had things nicely wrapped up and were seeking to rub their hosts' noses in it, they won a long scrummaging battle under their own sticks against such dark and dastardly set-piece denizens as Martin Castrogiovanni and George Chuter. It was not all black, by any means.
Lyn Jones, the London Welsh head coach, made precisely this point during the after-match wash-up. "It's a funny thing to say, but it went pretty much as we thought it would," he said. "We were naïve in the first 20 minutes, our line-out performance was disastrous and this stopped us putting Leicester under pressure, but there were also a lot of good things as the game developed.
"In rugby the devil is in the detail, and we haven't had time to put the detail in place. We enjoy our work, though: we enjoy playing and we want to create a game people will enjoy watching. It will take a week or two, but there's more to come."
Jones' opposite number, Richard Cockerill, detected a certain sloppiness in Leicester's effort, but his most effective forwards, notably the England lock Geoff Parling, made enough sound decisions to keep the Exiles in their box. Parling was outstanding in every facet: line-out organisation, ball-carrying, distribution. He even bagged himself a try in the left corner from Anthony Allen's flick pass just after the interval, although if we're talking sloppiness, therein lay a tale.
Allen's pass looked suspicious: if it was not forward, it was borderline at best. So too was Scott Hamilton's subsequent scoring delivery to Vereniki Goneva, one of the many Fijian wings apparently constructed by the firm responsible for the Great Pyramids. Yet there was not so much as a murmur of protest from Welsh – perfectly honourable of them, but just a little green given the new rules surrounding referrals to the video match official.
"It's not for me to say whether those passes were a yard forward," said Jones who, judging by his tone, was saying exactly that. "However, the best rugby players in the world are the best thinkers. When we scored our second try, the Leicester captain was straight into the referee, creating a stir." He had no need to remind his audience that J P Doyle, the official concerned, duly "went upstairs" for confirmation that Tonga'uiha's score was legitimate.
By embracing replay technology with such boundless enthusiasm, the men running the Premiership are begging for trouble. Next Friday night, when London Welsh go to Harlequins, they will be far more clued-up about pressurising officials into referrals – "I'll certainly do it next time," said their captain, Jonathan Mills, when quizzed on the subject – and the consequences could be dire: more interruptions, more discussions, more frustration. In cricket now, a batsman can lose all three stumps to a "jaffa" and still stand there, hoping for television evidence of a no-ball. The union game is on the same road, sadly.
If Jones has more urgent issues to concern him, he was right to take a degree of satisfaction from his team's first shot at this Premiership lark. The anticipated physicality gap did not materialise: thanks to the efforts of Tonga'uiha, his battle-scarred midfield partner Sonny Parker and the impressively powerful wing Joseph Ajuwa, there were precious few instances of Manu Tuilagi running roughshod over all and sundry.
In addition, Jones has signed well at the sharp end, where the former Sale hooker Neil Briggs gave everything in the front row before doing a late turn on the open-side flank – an exhausting shift in anyone's language.
It is also true to say that the Exiles will not continue to be caught cold from the get-go, as they were here. Thomas Waldrom, the new England No 8, was allowed to do pretty much as he liked in the early stages and his two tries, scored between the 13th and 24th minutes, effectively ruled out any possibility of an upset. As they pick up the pace of Premiership activity over the next month or so, the newcomers will be competitive for ever longer periods.
Yet this is not to suggest that their survival bid will be anything other than extremely fraught. If it is safe to assume that the injured Gavin Henson would have kicked the goals missed by Gordon Ross yesterday, it is equally fair to suggest that he will have to play like the great Welsh outside-halves of old – Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies, preferably rolled into one – if we are to see the Exiles in the Premiership this time next year.
Scorers: London Welsh: Tries Arscott, Tonga'uiha; Penalty Ross. Leicester: Tries Waldrom 2, Parling, Salvi, Goneva; Conversions Flood 5; Penalty:: Flood.
London Welsh: T Arscott; J Ajuwa, S Parker, H Tonga'uiha, P Mackenzie; G Ross (S Jewell, 70), J Holmes (N Runciman, 50); F Montanella (T Bristow, 56), N Briggs, P Ion (A Joly, 74), J Mills (capt), K Kulemin (M Purdy, 56), E Williamson (A To'oala, 46), L Beach (G Bateman, 56), D Browne.
Leicester: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goneva; T Flood (G Ford, 64), M Young (S Harrison 23); L Mulipola (B Stankovich, 53), T Youngs (G Chuter, 58), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 53), R Andrew, G Parling, S Mafi (B Deacon, 64), J Salvi, T Waldrom (J Crane, 54).
Referee: J P Doyle (London).Reuse content