Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Welsh in Fury at Elite's Lockout Bid

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Welsh in Fury at Elite's Lockout Bid

Article excerpt


First Division Exiles are angry at plans to make the Premiership a closed shop with no teams relegated, writes Chris Jones

LONDON WELSH could find their ambitious bid to regain former glories blocked by controversial Rugby Football Union plans to turn the Guinness Premiership into a closed shop.

A number of ideas are being looked at to ring-fence the Premiership, including an American-style franchise system which would see the RFU hand out 12 franchises to owners with the clubs guaranteed their future under a "no relegation rule".

That has angered First Division teams, including the Exiles, and the league's executive director Geoff Cooke will spell out their concerns at a meeting with the RFU tomorrow.

One leading First Division Rugby Ltd official said: "If the RFU try to bring the shutters down then they will have outright war with FDR. The Office of Fair Trading will be banging on their door as well."

The Welsh, whose former players include ex-Lions such as JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and John Taylor, are part of an increasingly ambitious group of First Division clubs who recognise that promotion is the key attraction for financial backers.

It is understood the Exiles are in talks with a group of publicity-shy investors from the Welsh business community in London who are willing to fund an estimated [pounds sterling]20million, five-year bid to capture a place in the Premiership.

If promoted, the Welsh would play league matches at the 12,750-capacity Griffin Park, home of Brentford FC and formerly the London Broncos rugby league outfit.

The Exiles' current home at Old Deer Park is Crown property and leased to both London Welsh and Richmond Cricket Club, which means any investor would not be buying into valuable land that could be then sold.

London Welsh chairman David Hammond said: "If somebody came along with [pounds sterling]20m I would bite both their hands off ! It's pure speculation and we have not had an offer.

"Nine years ago, six of us each signed cheques to save the London Welsh and it is an expensive hobby. Three of those six are still at the club.

"There are considerable financial efforts being made by FDR clubs with 205 fulltime players employed at this level. The FDR clubs have real aspirations to reach the top of the game."

The threat to their hopes is as a result of comments made by Francis Baron, the RFU chief executive, supported by chairman Martyn Thomas.

Baron said: "Promotion and relegation has always been an article of faith on our side. However, we are prepared to look at that again. The RFU will go into talks with an open mind on the way forward and we have put a number of innovative ideas on the table." Those ideas include the franchising proposal that would see the RFU agree on the 12 teams that will form the Premiership with an expected "no relegation" guarantee. …

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