Building a Premiership side
July 4, 2012
London Welsh have achieved promotion, but now the hard work really starts © PA Photos
Stade Francais v London Welsh in the Amlin Challenge Cup, London Welsh v Ospreys in the Anglo-Welsh Cup - it is fixtures like that which really bring home the difference between last season and next!
There have been hundreds of messages of congratulations and good wishes (surprisingly only two nasty ones) from all over the world since the appeal verdict came through on Friday evening but the last month has been tough. We won the Championship on May 30 but it was only last Thursday that I dared to start to believe we would be allowed to take our place in the Aviva Premiership.
Our brilliant QC Tom de la Mare was confident because he was convinced the RFU and PRL were contravening UK and European competition law and his enthusiasm was infectious but there was still a significant body of legal opinion that was telling us we were tilting at windmills and could not beat the Establishment. Fortunately, our Chairman, Bleddyn Phillips, a senior partner with Clifford Chance, one of the biggest law firms in the world, is also a hugely experienced player when it comes to legal wrangles and sided with Tom so we went into the hearing with all guns blazing.
The ruling was pretty unequivocal in the end. If PRL and the RFU wanted to grant exemptions to the Primacy of Tenure regulations they had set down that was fine as long as they allowed aspirant Championship clubs the same rights providing that was possible without seriously compromising the competition with regards to commercial and television rights.
The fact that it had worked without problems with more than three clubs in that position in previous seasons and that it had already been agreed up to five clubs without Primacy of Tenure should be allowed for the season 2013-14, showed there was no real problem in managing the fixture matrix and that weighed heavily in our favour.
Confirmation on Tuesday that Newcastle have accepted the decision and will not be appealing to the High Court made it final - we are finally back in the top tier of English rugby, something we took for granted back in the 70s but something that few would have predicted when we dropped into the fifth tier of English rugby in the early 90s.
We owe a huge debt to our former chairman, Kelvin Bryon, who first led the resurgence and then sustained it financially to allow us to get to this position. It has been a real roller-coaster ride and there have been times when it seemed impossible. However, we can finally say we are an Aviva Premiership club but nobody is under any illusions - it is now that the really hard work begins.
The bulk of our playing squad are just back from holidays but with just seven weeks to go before the start of the new season we have had to leave half a dozen key places open because of the uncertainty. If we had not won the appeal those would have gone to low profile back-up players - now they will be key elements in making the squad strong enough to compete at the top level.
Suddenly, every agent in the world seems to be in contact offering players but we are well aware those who would be first on our wish list are just not available so the challenge is even greater but we are moving swiftly to make sure we are competitive when we kick-off on September 1.
The biggest difference between a Championship and a Premiership team is probably in the pack so - as was mentioned in these columns yesterday - it is no surprise that adding size and power is deemed a priority. The other key area is obviously at half-back - speculate as you will!
I spent yesterday catching up on the various regulatory requirements and had to smile when Premier Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty deemed it a priority to meet the guys who will police the salary cap. Gaining promotion has opened the door to significant new funding for London Welsh but it will take some time before we can begin to compete with the likes of Leicester and Saracens.
Because of the way the system works we will get significantly less than the other clubs from the central pot this season. Many believe it is unfair but we knew the rules before we decided to try to join the Premiership club so there is no point dwelling on it - just one more challenge.
The move to Oxford is yet another. We have to persuade our London based supporters that it is worth making the journey and also build a new spectator base from the area but the Kassam Stadium is perfect for Premiership rugby and we are confident will quickly be able to turn it into a home from home.
At times it seems overwhelming, Championship clubs cannot afford to employ more than a handful of backroom staff so we have to put together a whole new team off the field as well, but having knocked on the door for a couple of seasons we have forced our way in and it is now up to us to prove we deserve to stay in the top flight.
Of course it is daunting but this is what sport is all about and above all it is hugely exciting - Exeter proved everybody wrong and we are aiming to do the same.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh