London Welsh must now focus on organic growth

The points against column for the season for London Welsh have soared past the 1,000 mark – and the previous record, held by West Hartlepool. The Exiles finished the season with 1,021 points conceded over 22 matches, surpassing the 1,007 shipped by the north-east side in the 1998/99 season. Small consolation, but in those days there were 14 teams in the Premiership, so that the tally was racked over four more matches.

It closes the coffin on Welsh’s second stint in the Premiership. And so bad has it been that the Premiership suits could moot an end to promotion and relegation while pointing at the hapless Welsh as a reason why.

Off the field, where the real problems have always lain, London Welsh were never ready for Premiership rugby, this time or last. The Kassam Stadium, in theory a perfectly pleasant ground, has echoed to the sound of a few thousand fans. So if there’s one thing we have learned from the London Welsh experience, it is that those much maligned minimum standards criteria were not quite such a ridiculous concept after all.
Clubs such as Exeter and Worcester have spent years putting together credible packages for the Premiership; Welsh’s application to the inspectorate three years ago was last minute and on the hoof.

The good news, though, is that there may yet be life at the Kassam. Wasps have now left the area and if London Welsh can attract any floating fans in the Thames Valley they could grow into an attractive proposition. It will take a few years. And those years should be spent in the Championship.
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

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Don’t hit a man when he’s down

Another season ends; another promotion-relegation debate drags on

England’s leading clubs have pounced on London Welsh’s failure to compete in the Premiership and used it as a key weapon in their regular quest to ring-fence English rugby’s top flight. Twenty-two straight league defeats does not make pretty reading for the Exiles or the league as a whole but they have been handicapped since before even the start of the season.
Denied the same amount of central funding as their Premiership rivals, the timing of the Championship season means that their place among the elite is not confirmed until what seems like mid-summer and so their recruitment plans are hampered badly to say the least.

The fear of relegation can inspire thrilling and crowd-pleasing rugby at the wrong end of the table to rival that being played in the battle for silverware with teams fighting lives and players for their livelihoods. London Welsh may have failed spectacularly this season, but the likes of Exeter have thrived. Long-term financial planning may be hindered by uncertainty but drama puts bums on seats.

By all means engineer an expansion to the Premiership that will see sides clearly capable of competing – Bristol and Worcester – given an invite to the party but do not bolt the door.
Promotion and relegation must remain with a play-off between the Championship winners and the Premiership basement side perhaps the most likely compromise.

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Bring back the 57 Old Farts

2015 being a year of anniversaries, someone mentioned the other day that it is 20 years since Will Carling’s pithy verdict on the RFU committee as “57 old farts” entered the sporting lexicon. The phrase nowadays would probably only qualify as a wry compliment by social media standards, but, can we honestly say, hand on heavily-sponsored heart, that the amateur era’s buffers, blimps and blazers were worse than the game’s current administrators who replaced them?

Because a quick count of the issues stacking up within the game do not reflect terribly well on the current guardians of the union code.

It is not merely the rising stench from beneath the carpets at Premiership Rugby, where the serious matter of alleged salary cap breaches have seemingly been swept. Perhaps we should simply resign ourselves to the air-brushing of anything which conceivably threatens the commercial bottom line, particularly the latest huge broadcasting deal with BT Sport. Is it not too much to ask those who know the truth to have the guts to step forward to share the details with us, the paying fans?

The same sense of disquiet applies to the proposed moratorium on promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership from 2016/17. This is not an argument which can be had in isolation. Either the RFU, its leading clubs and English rugby in general want a vibrant, healthy second tier beneath the Premiership or they do not. Simply pulling up the relegation drawbridge , imposing a low ceiling on the funding available to those outside the magic circle and insisting everything will be rosy for the disenfranchised majority is, at best, wishful thinking.
Where is the rugby equivalent of Bournemouth, just promoted to football’s billionaire playground, going to come from?

With the World Cup only months away, where is the breadth of vision at a time when rugby union has a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to spread its gospel. A recent letter to “Rugby World” put it succinctly: “Have you noticed the air of excitement in Britain about the World Cup? No, neither have I. With less than five months to go, the silence in anything but the rugby press is deafening.”The ousting of Debbie Jevans as the figurehead of England Rugby 2015 less than six months before the start of the tournament was accompanied by a deafening radio silence from Twickenham. The RFU used to be more open in the days when its phone number was ex-directory.

To finish off on Europe…Toulon have just won the inaugural European Champions Cup, the successor to the Heineken Cup. But the supposed new broom in Europe still has work to do on the perception front. Four of the five main sponsorship slots for this new completion remain unfilled. The only blue chip sponsor on board is……Heineken. And let’s not forget that a blizzard of free tickets was required to boost the attendance at European rugby’s flagship Twickenham final between two French sides…

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Do Sky have an Irish love-in?

The European finals last weekend gave us a great opportunity to compare BT Sports’ coverage of rugby with that of Sky with both broadcasters covering the two finals. It’s a matter of personal preference of course , but I just find BT’s coverage more to my taste, and a bit less pompous.
Premiership fans have long been irritated by Sky’s Irish love-in, and that was evident again in their coverage of the Toulon v Leinster semi-final. There seemed to be no pretense of anything close to impartiality, and if we’d cut to Myles Harrison and Stuart Barnes in Leinster shirts I wouldn’t have been surprised! I have a lot of time for Stuart Barnes as a writer but as a broadcaster I wish he would take a leaf out of the late Ritchie Benaud playbook – less is more!
It’s hard to get numbers for Sky Sports subscribers in the UK and Ireland, but it seems likely that it’s roughly 20:1. However, having lost the rights to broadcast the premiership, it looks like there a distinctly pro-Irish flavour to their rugby output, and the rest of us will simply have to lump it – or press the mute button!

We have just had an all-French and all-British European final. Of course we need neutral referees when clubs from different countries are competing ,but when it’s a one-country clash ,might it not make for a better spectacle to have a home ref? Let’s face it, Pro 12,Top14 and Premiership matches are all ref’d in slightly differently ways, and the players are used to that.
I would have thought that a native French speaker would have been a better choice for the Champions final in particular. Nigel Owens is a superb referee, but how many of the players at Twickenham understood his English comments in a broad Welsh accent?

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk