RUGBY UNION: We are still underdogs, says London Welsh boss Burnell

Mitch Lees (centre) returns for London Welsh tonight in a back row that includes Carl Kirwan (left) and a side captained by Tom May (right)   Picture: Martin John

Mitch Lees (centre) returns for London Welsh tonight in a back row that includes Carl Kirwan (left) and a side captained by Tom May (right) Picture: Martin John

First published in Sport Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter specialising in Rugby, Cricket and Athletics. Call me on 01865 425456

LONDON Welsh head coach Justin Burnell insists there is no more pressure on his side at Bristol tonight than there was in the first leg.

The Exiles head to the Memorial Stadium (7.45) for the second leg of their Greene King IPA Championship final with a 19-point lead.

Few Welsh fans would have expected such a margin against opponents who finished top of the regular season table.

But although the odds are now in his side’s favour, Burnell believes the pressure remains on Bristol.

“They are still the favourites,” he said.

“They won the league and have got all the best players.

“We are told it is a sell-out crowd as well.

“We are still underdogs.”

Burnell added: “We are all excited and just looking forward to it now.

“We are in good shape mentally and physically.

“The players worked hard in the first leg and received the rewards that came with it.

“It’s the same principle on Wednesday night.”

With a 12,000 crowd roaring Bristol on in their final match at the Memorial Stadium, it is sure to be a passionate atmosphere.

But Burnell will be doing his best to keep his players calm in advance.

“It’s just about relaxing now,” he said. “The work starts on Wednesday at 7pm.

“Prior to that we will be relaxing.”

One big boost for Burnell is the return of Australian Mitch Lees at blindside flanker.

Lees, who will join Exeter this summer, has been out injured since the victory over Jersey on April 12.

Burnell said: “He has been one of the outstanding players in the Championship and has been well rewarded by having a contract from Exeter.

“He is looking really sharp. He was fit for the first leg, but we felt he wasn’t quite right.

“With Pete Edwards going back to Scarlets as well, a lot of these boys want to sign off their London Welsh careers on a high.”

Lees is one of three changes as Burnell maintains the rotation policy that has served him well this season.

“We have got a squad of 40 players who are pushing each other right to the max,” said Burnell.

“I don’t think there is a huge difference in ability, but they are keeping each other focused.”

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