London Welsh’s promotion the right call at the wrong time

You could argue that after being told hours before the kickoff of their Championship Final 1st leg back in May that they would not be promoted, London Welsh have been put through the wringer enough. Yet as reports began to swirl across Twitter on Friday afternoon that their appeal had been successful, they were made to wait longer still for official confirmation of the result. When it came, the reaction was understandably euphoric.

It may have taken an appeal with a hired legal team and a hearing that took two days instead of one, but nobody can argue with the result. The Exiles missed the deadline for submitting their criteria application back at the end of March but as soon as it became apparent that the Kassam Stadium was available and given how London Irish, Saracens, London Wasps and Sale are all currently in similar groundshares away from their original bases, little truly stood in their way. Rather than a repeat of the situation in 2002 when Rotherham were denied promotion despite winning the Championship title, Welsh have correctly been granted their rightful ascendancy to the big league.

Now though, things will get interesting. With 61 days to go until the season’s opener – the location of which will be revealed on Wednesday – Welsh have admitted that they need to recruit around eight potential starting players, particularly up front in the tight five. Given that quality performers in this area do not come cheap, any transactions will have to be astute and preferably for players with Premiership experience who are familiar with the rigours of 22 gruelling rounds of fixtures.

The club in the past few seasons have operated on a successful loan basis with London Irish, but have lost Max Lahiff and Jack Moates back to their fellow Exiles and are unlikely to continue to receive players from them now the two clubs are Premiership rivals. Looking ahead, they have already recruited the likes of Damian Browne, Ed Williamson and Sonny Parker – all the calibre of players Welsh need. Plenty more though are required from where they came, although Welsh already possess talent in Seb Jewell and Gordon Ross, captain Jon Mills, full back Alex Davies and the impressive Hudson Tonga’uhia.

One name that was instantly linked with the club following the news of their promotion however was Gavin Henson. The enigmatic Bachelor comes with an arguably unnecessary level of baggage for a club that is trying to establish themselves, but his talent is undeniable. Lyn Jones knows Henson well from their time at the Ospreys but if Henson were to find himself in another ice cube throwing incident or on the set of another TV show within months of signing, then London Welsh would be open to ridicule. If Henson truly buys into the club’s ethos, keep his head down and performs considerably better than his last stint in the Premiership with Saracens, then there is potential for him to shine.

It would be wrong to not discuss Welsh’s victory without mentioning Newcastle, who in the wake of Friday afternoon’s news made clear that they would not be contesting the matter further. The demotion to the Championship for them represents a chance to start afresh, and when you consider the quality they have recruited this summer – Rory Lawson, Carlo del Fava, Alex Crockett and Chris York – and the few departures from Kingston Park, there is little doubt that they have a strong chance to come straight back up for the 2013/2014 season. For too long the club have spent big salaries on under-performing players and employed coaching teams who have failed to deliver. This is their chance, under the wise eye of Dean Richards, to become a force again.

For now though, all eyes are on Old Deer Park and how Welsh develop over the next two months. They will go from playing in front of 3000 people at Moseley to 24,000 at Welford Road, not to mention Amlin Challenge Cup trips to Stade Français and Italy. It will be an enormous test of limited resources, but the heart and soul is already there. London Welsh refused to give up on their promotion bid and that hunger will stand them in good stead. Their promotion truly is a victory for sport and common sense.

by Ben Coles

5 thoughts on “London Welsh’s promotion the right call at the wrong time

  1. One interesting point I see mentioned in a lot of the news is that Welsh intend to honour the RFU limitation on non-English qualified players in their teams … an odd thing you might think to mention up front but I suspect this is because of the rumours that the WRU might have looked at LW as a fifth region – a way to develop more talent, perhaps put current welsh league players into the team, etc. That option now seems closed unless they cannily fill it with dual qualified players, of which there will likely be many? Of course that could backfire when those lads then realise how much better paid English international players are.

    Agent Orange? Oh Lord, I hope Welsh don’t go for that option. I supported Henson for years, had no issue with his obsession with image, etc. But when he was picked to play for Wales last summer and stated his total focus was on rugby … then a week or so later announced he was in that bachelor thing … that was the end of it for me. A wasted talent sure, but an utter loser as a person who now needs to keep away from the game for the sake of the rest of us who love it.

  2. It’s a funny old situation and I think Falcons may have a right to legal dispute. However, I’m not sure if there’s a real legal precedent. Put simply, London Welsh left their application to meet the MSC very very late meaning that any appeal would come during preseason at which point Newcastle should have known whether they will be staying or going. This is likely to have left them in a very awkward situation where they’ve been in limbo with their season preparation, which -in this era – begins at the end of the season.

    They may have a point in the fact that London Welsh were rejected very late and therefore no appeal should have been heard that would have affected the Falcons and I think at that stage in te season the RFU would have been within rights to say to London Welsh that they are reconsidering the MSC but their application came too late in the season for a full review and appeal process.

    I think that London Welsh and Newcastle Falcons are going to see all sorts of issues now and the promotion has helped neither team especially.

  3. This whole matter has been bad for English rugby and the RFU. Communications failures and now could be a minority sport. Rfu have formed a new league London and South West premiership. Not good for a national sport. Sarries and welsh have used the same argument, Euro anti competitiveness, to get there own way. Remember when the premiership was formed two main points were, Premacy of ownership of the ground and English qualified players. Both points have been allowed to be flouted by Southern clubs. Newcastle, leeds and Rotherham put through the mill.

    1. But you cannot have a piecemeal solution to that problem, you cannot simply block promotion for a certain list of clubs. To truly solve that problem, if you see it as important and want to solve it, you’d need to move to a model more like the CL. The Unions, in partnership with the clubs & owners, decide who will be in the league, what rules they play under (all Welsh clubs agreed to the limitation on non-Welsh qualified players once it was linked to their central funding – probably legally challenge-able but they do not want to challenge), perhaps going as far as centrally contracting players.

      The English and French leagues are based on the football model – let money rule. So you end up with strong rich clubs and weak poor ones, more often than not concentrated in those areas where the sport is popular enough to draw money. Given that the English model is based on this, and has been for years, then the desire to spread the game must be seen as just some meaningless marketing speak because there is no ability or will to see it through. I sympathise with north eastern rugby fans, but the league they are desperate to get into isn’t built to nurture teams outside the rugby centres. London Welsh should not be penalised for that given it’s clear from the outset that this is the case.

  4. I applaud the decision, but not the timing.
    I feel very much for Newcastle too, who have also been given very little time to reassess off-field as well as obvious on-field things, budgets and marketing strategies will have to be tinkered with I am sure.

    I have not read anywhere how this affects the Amlin Challenge. Normally, the 12 teams involved from England are the Premiership clubs. Nothing has been said either by the ERC or one of the clubs involved as to what is happening.

    Was there an entry deadline which was in place which means that Newcastle remain in the tournament? Does this mean that Welsh will play in the British and Irish cup. What about the LV Cup?

    Lots of things remain unclear to me, and we’re in July……

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