So crisis-torn London Welsh now ‘cease to exist as a professional club’ and have been denied permission to play in the Championship forthwith…
Clearly yesterday’s news that the RFU has refused to extend the temporary licence that they granted Welsh just before Christmas will be of considerable interest to Coventry and, indeed, to several other clubs who have a realistic chance of promotion next season.
With no relegation from the Championship this season and Hartpury College also removed from the equation next , unless one of the newly-promoted sides from National 2 springs one heck of a surprise, competition for that elusive promotion spot in National 1 in 2017/18 will realistically be between the 5 or 6 clubs currently vying for bragging rights behind the current champions-elect.
However, before looking at that scenario in a little more detail, perhaps its appropriate to spare a thought for all those players, officials and supporters of London Welsh for whom the news must come as a massive blow. It’s wasn’t too long ago that we were close to a similar fate ourselves and we were exceedingly fortunate that so many friends of the club rallied round to provide, at the eleventh hour, the necessary financial assurances needed to avoid a winding up order similar to that which the RFU has placed on the Exiles.
Had it not been for John Wilkinson’s tenacity and the generosity of so many, Coventry could well have been now languishing in the lowest tiers of the rugby pyramid.
Lest we forget…
Whatever else happens, I sincerely hope that those involved in the club and whose careers have been placed on hold as a result of yesterday’s news, soon find themselves alternative employment and the club continues to exist in one form or another to uphold the proud traditions that have been such an important part of the club’s history…
…a history that has boasted some of the truly greats of the modern era – JPR Williams, John Dawes, Gerald Davies, Mervyn Davies and John Taylor to name but five. Those involved with the club will know of many more, but that’s not bad for starters.
Whilst the players and supporters deserve every sympathy, it is a moot point as to whether those who have controlled Welsh’s finances over the last few seasons deserve the same compassion. Seldom do such events occur without some warning and we have seen all too often in recent times clubs trying to buy success and ending up getting more than just their fingers burned in the process.
More often than not, they only have themselves to blame and whilst this may, or may not, be the case with London Welsh, rightly or wrongly my thoughts at the moment are more with the players and supporters than they are with those in control of the club.
Of course, London Welsh’s current plight throws up all sorts of questions as to how it was allowed to happen in the first place and why the RFU didn’t step in earlier. Further, how do you square the financial constraints so many of the clubs in the top tiers are facing against the alternative funding arrangements enjoyed by Hartpury?
Or should you even try?
Indeed, does the fate that has befallen London Welsh simply add more weight to the RFU’s plans to initiate a salary cap?
Heaven forbid it’s so…
There’s plenty of discussion taking place on the messageboard at the moment on the whys and wherefores of London Welsh’s fall from grace, so please forgive me if I leave such musings to those who are far more in the know than I am and instead turn to how all this might, or might not, impact on Coventry Rugby Club.
Schadenfreude – the pleasure gained from someone else’s misfortune.
Never an endearing quality.
And one that I certainly don’t want to be accused of…
…but, sadly, one club’s misfortune is, indeed, another’s gain – Richmond perhaps more so than any other.
With no relegation this season, they can look to another year in the Championship and the opportunity to consolidate on what has been an encouraging few months for them. The decision not to go full-time, initially seen as brave by many and foolhardy by some, has paid dividends and in some respects they deserve another 12 months in the second tier of English rugby – albeit not at the expense of London Welsh.
And whilst no one wants to see any club fold, especially one of the great names in British rugby, it’s impossible not to look at the bigger picture and see what the impact of London Welsh’s demise might be for Coventry.
It would be extraordinary if the Coventry Board and coaches weren’t, that’s for sure.
And the fact that there will be no relegation from the Championship in April means that, unless something rather extraordinary happens next season, Coventry will be fighting for promotion from National 1 with the likes of Plymouth Albion, Blackheath, Rosslyn Park, Ampthill, Moseley et al. All known quantities and none of them looking to be clear favourites at this very early stage in the proceedings.
The absence of a relegated side suddenly throws the league wide open and surely offers those teams battling it out for second place behind Hartpury their best chance of promotion for many a year.
Unless one of the other teams presently in National 1 comes across a very generous benefactor or one of the soon to be promoted National 2 sides (likely to come from possibly two of Caldy, Sale, Chinnor, Bishop’s Stortford and Old Elthamians) has the necessary financial clout, it’s down to possibly four or five of the top six teams below Hartpury to compete for the top spot.
Further, Moseley are currently struggling somewhat on the money front and having made the decision not to renew Kevin Maggs’ contract at the end of the season for purely financial reasons, they might have problems amassing a squad competitive enough over a full season to win the league, especially as they are rumoured to be losing several key players come April.
Well before the news of the RFU’s decision to refuse London Welsh permission to stay in the Championship, Cov had made it pretty clear that next season would see the start of their assault on the National 1 title following what was always going to be an initial season of consolidation.
And with no relegation from the Championship this season, I can’t help but feel that things have been made a little more straightforward as regards promotion from national 1 in 2017/18, although of course not easier, given the weight of expectation on the shoulders of Messrs. Rowland Winter and co will be just that little bit heavier with the removal of the relegated side from the list of potential challengers.
Does this change things even in the short term for Cov?
At a guess, I would say yes, it must do to some extent…
In the modern era, where clubs are also businesses with million pound plus turnovers, it would be extremely foolhardy to ignore the potential consequences, good or bad, of the story unfolding over at Old Deer Park.
At the very least, you would expect the club to assess the impact of yesterday’s news in terms of Coventry’s likely push for promotion next season.
I imagine Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter will want to assess whether they carry on with their recruitment as if nothing has changed or decide that, given the absence of one of the key contenders for promotion next season in the form of the team relegated from the Championship at the end of this season, Coventry should be looking to step up its recruitment with a view to making the most of either Richmond or London Welsh’s absence.
The temptation might be to increase the budget a little and bring a couple more experienced players in, in the hope that a stronger squad next season is going to give you a better chance of promotion than in a further 12 months time.
Clearly, it’s a gamble and one that several chairman have taken in the past only for it to come back and bite then in the months and years to follow – as those who followed Coventry in the mid 90’s will remember all too clearly. Eves and co. came in at a considerable cost resulting in a quick promotion to what was then the equivalent of the Championship – but within two years we were facing the prospect of the same outcome as that which has befallen London Welsh.
It is a gamble and not one that I would personally want to see the club take. We’ve cut our cloth in a very measured way under the chairmanship of Jon Sharp and it would seem foolish to steer off the course he and his fellow board members have so assiduously set.
Tempting, though, nevertheless…
And of course there’s now a whole squad of Championship players suddenly become available, of whom at least 6 or 7 have spent time with Coventry in the past. I don’t think there would be too many supporters who wouldn’t want to see Carlyle, Lewis or Carpenter back at the BPA. In all likelihood though, those players prepared to make the drop into National 1 would look initially to the likes of Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and Esher, all of which are on the doorstep. A move to any one of them would result in a minimum of disruption should they express an interest.
Maybe closer ties with Wasps and other Premiership sides might mean we can bring in one or two more Academy players, at no extra cost. to offset any financial inpecunities that might prevent us from strengthening the squad as much as we would like. However, we have seen this season how frustrating it can be when loanees/dual reg. players are called back at short notice even when selected for a match day squad. Certainly that wouldn’t be an ideal situation by any means.
I appreciate all this is pure speculation, but I guess what I’m trying to get across is that in some way or another, London Welsh’s demise will impact on Coventry…and, heresy to say it publicly I know, but it might well work to the club’s advantage.
One can only hope that London Welsh will be able to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of despair and before too long we’ll see the club move up the lower leagues to regain a place in the top tiers of English rugby once again.
With Cov at home to Esher on Saturday, I thought it would be good to include a clip of one of Coventry’s last wins against them, in March 2014 – and at 43-0 it was a pretty one-sided affair.
Although only a couple of minutes in length, it brings back some happy memories – with the likes of Hurrell, Knox, Hodgson, Le Roux, Kohler et al all prominent. It’s worth turning the sound up as well just to hear the thump as Cliffie’s foot strikes the ball, repeatedly, between the posts…
Leather on leather or leather on willow?
Leather on leather every time…
Sounds like a masochist’s dream.
A quick warning, I ‘seque-ed’ some holiday footage of myself and Sue in Tobago to the clip a while back and can’t now remove it…it only runs for 30 seconds.
A repeat performance on Saturday wouldn’t come amiss and with Esher’s away record looking pretty mediocre at:
…well, you have to fancy Cov’s chances of getting a five pointer on Saturday.
It remains to be seen, though, just how much injuries, together with the likely absence of all the Premiership loanees, might impact on the make up of the match day squad on Saturday. Whilst Coventry played poorly away at Molesey Road earlier in the season, Esher clearly showed that, on their day, they are more than capable of causing most teams in National 1 considerable problems and I’m sure RW and the coaches will be impressing upon whatever side is picked that should they choose to underestimate Esher, they do so at their peril.
However, having matched Hartpury in that opening 40 minutes last weekend and despite falling away in the second half, Coventry must feel that, at home, they will have more than enough in their armoury to overcome Esher and begin another run that, hopefully, will continue for a fair few games thereafter.