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Aviva Premiership: Defeat against Northampton Saints ensures London Welsh will finish bottom
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London Welsh face relegation from the Aviva Premiership after a 31-14 loss to Northampton Saints at the Kassam Stadium - their 10th successive league defeat - consigned them to finishing bottom.
Their only hope of survival is if the Championship title winners - to be confirmed following play-offs in May - do not meet Premiership entry criteria.
But as the clear Championship favourites and current dominant team are Newcastle, who were a top-flight club last term, it is unlikely there will be a reprieve for Lyn Jones' side.
Even their five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player in the Premiership this season looks set to be irrelevant as they are now 12 points behind 11th-placed London Irish with only two games left.
And there were also reports on Sunday that their majority shareholder Kelvin Bryon intends pulling out of the club, with Bryon claiming he had "had enough" of Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union.
But Northampton were in no mood for sentiment at the Kassam Stadium as they strengthened their play-off hopes through a comfortable victory that was underpinned by substitute Tom May's quickfire try double just before half-time.
May struck twice in two minutes, before his fellow centre Luther Burrell crossed twice during the second period. Fly-half Stephen Myler added three penalties and Ryan Lamb converted Burrell's second score to give Saints a five-point maximum.
Welsh replied with tries in each half from wing Nick Scott and number eight Daniel Browne - half-backs Alex Davies and Gordon Ross each kicked a conversion - but their admirable ambition was undermined too often by poor execution.
It means a repeat performance from Northampton at home to lowly Sale Sharks next Saturday will confirm their place in the play-offs.
Miller ruled out
London Welsh suffered a blow when skipper Jonathan Mills was ruled out, so Matt Corker took over in the second-row and Ross assumed captaincy duties, while Northampton showed three changes from their last outing as Burrell, Ken Pisi and Brian Mujati all started.
Myler kicked Saints into a second-minute lead that he doubled shortly afterwards as Northampton immediately discovered an impressive off-loading mode, using carriers like Courtney Lawes to make inroads.
Welsh showed glimpses of their attacking prowess with ball in hand, but they suffered an early injury blow when centre Seb Jewell limped off and was replaced by James Lewis before Saints lost an injured George Pisi, with May taking over from him alongside midfield partner Burrell.
Northampton looked certain to extend their lead after setting up camp just five metres from the home side's line, yet resilient defence sparked a thrilling Welsh counter-attack led by Scott that had Saints defenders scrambling.
The move ultimately fizzled out, but Northampton knew they were embroiled in a hard-fought contest, and they soon had far more to worry about when Welsh caught them cold from deep.
Former Wales centre Sonny Parker intercepted a Lee Dickson pass deep inside his own half, and although he did not have the pace to make Saints pay, he found a supporting Scott, who touched down between the posts.
Davies added the extras to edge Welsh ahead, yet the lead lasted just two minutes as Myler completed his penalty hat-trick before May struck a killer double blow.
The former Newcastle centre's pace took him clear on both occasions, and from being in touch just before half-time, Welsh trooped off 19-7 adrift.
And Saints wasted little time reasserting themselves after the break, cutting Welsh open inside six minutes as Burrell gathered Mujati's pass. Myler's touchline conversion attempt hit the post, but Northampton were one try away from a bonus point.
Replacement Northampton prop Alex Waller was sin-binned as the game entered its final quarter, but that quickly evened itself up when Ross received a yellow card from referee Greg Garner.
And there was enough time for Burrell to cross unopposed against a fatigued Welsh defence, completing a comprehensive win and leaving Welsh with nothing more than pride to play for in their remaining Premiership fixtures this season against London Irish and Worcester.Aviva Premiership. Click here to bet.
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com