The verdict was delivered yesterday on London Welsh’s appeal against their points deduction for fielding an ineligible player: denied. It means that they do not get back the deducted five points (for this season – the five suspended until next season have been wiped, although they are unlikely to care about that now). It is a crushing blow to their chances of staying in the Premiership at the first time of asking. They now find themselves five points behind Sale with just four games left to be played. That is not an unfeasible amount of ground to make up, but their job would have been a hell of a lot easier if they were equal on points now.
The teams’ respective run-ins are similar in terms of difficulty. Welsh have Bath and London Irish away and welcome Northampton and Worcester to the Kassam Stadium. Sale, meanwhile, also have to travel to London Irish, as well as the Saints – and then play Gloucester and Wasps in Salford. Not much to choose between them – arguably, the Exiles’ might even be slightly easier.
One fears, though, that it might be too much to ask for London Welsh who have been hit by one sucker punch after another in recent months. Their 25-26 loss at home to Sale was catastrophically disappointing, and they haven’t actually won in the league since the first day of December, a 15-9 home win over London Irish. Sale, on the other hand, have started to string a few victories together after seemingly looking out of it at one point. Crucially, they are now winning the close, claustrophobic games they were losing at the beginning of the season – see their late victory over Bath last weekend for proof.
Returning to the points deduction issue, opinions will vary on whether Welsh have been hard done by. It is easy to say that it was merely the wrongdoing of an individual – indeed, a look at the transcript of the trial hearing makes you wonder about the sanity of Mike Scott. On the other hand, a large amount of responsbility lies with the club for hiring him. They may have thought he was the best bloke in the world, incapable of anything this Machiavellian, but when all is said and done he was a paid employee of London Welsh and was therefore representing them.
It is harsh, but it is the truth. Indeed, five points could be considered somewhat of a light punishment, seeing as the player in question – New Zealand-born Tyson Keats – played ten games for them illegally. Other teams have been punished up to two points a game for the same offence which, if applied here, would have completely killed the relegation battle.
It is good, then, that a degree of common sense has prevailed. London Welsh have been punished, and rightly so, but not such an extent that would have made the relegation run-in boring. It is certainly still all to play for.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43