Seven steps to survival
July 12, 2012
London Welsh secured their place in the Aviva Premiership, but now they face a battle to retain it © Getty Images
London Welsh will play their first match in the Aviva Premiership in just 51 days and as a result are in a race against time to ready themselves for the top flight.
After securing promotion a fortnight ago, Lyn Jones' phone immediately started ringing with agents touting their players as key to the Exiles' survival this coming season. With this in mind, this week's Scrum Sevens looks at some areas that London Welsh may look to improve and bolster ahead of the start of their adventure in England's top-flight.
Securing a battle-hardened tight-head
Whatever level of rugby you are playing, the scrum is anchored by the tight-head. Commonly courting the highest wages in a side - just as Carl Hayman did at the Newcastle Falcons - the tight-head has the potential to win or lose your side match-turning penalties. Billy Moss was their chosen tight-head last term, but the ex-Bath front-row has barely any Premiership experience to his name. With that in mind, a signing in the mould of Faan Rautenbach could work wonders for this side. It is doubtful whether he'd manage the full 80 minutes and despite rumours suggesting he is considering retiring, if the Exiles could get a season out of the South African, with Moss getting valuable experience as his understudy, then it'll put them in good stead.
Finding their equivalent of James Scaysbrook
The former Bath flanker helped Exeter into the Premiership and has started all 44 of the Chiefs' games in the top-flight over the past two campaigns. He was rightly nominated for the Aviva Premiership Player of the Year award and the Exiles should be searching for a player built in his mould. He may not top the turnover charts, or breaking the gainline, but what he offers you cannot bottle. Any professional player who can play a whole season is worth his weight and it's that sort of player who would give the Exiles an essential level-head at the back of the scrum.
Someone to get the backs firing
They've recruited Matt Keyte recently but have lost their first-choice scrum-half Rob Lewis to the Cardiff Blues. London Welsh now need to secure a top-class half-back in the mould of Haydn Thomas or Paul Hodgson - someone with years of experience and the nous for closing out a match in whatever conditions the English weather throws at the team. Time is obviously against Lyn Jones in this area of preparation for next term with most scrum-halves snapped up so he may have to look to Super Rugby or the loan market. Munster's Peter Stringer performed heroically for Newcastle last season and the Exiles should be looking, or even praying, for a similar player.
Re-enforcing the second-row
They already boast former Wasps locks Matt Corker and Martin Purdy in their ranks, but they need someone to give them essential go-forward around the set piece with a calm head in the lineout. ESPN's Austin Healey suggested a player like Worcester's James Percival would be a perfect fit. He's tied up for the foreseeable future at the Warriors but Jones should be scouring the market for a player of his calibre. But with the huge majority of second-rows signed up for next season, Jones may have to get his cheque book out and go looking in the Championship.
Bringing in the cash
While they currently have a 'design and publicity manager' on their books at the Exiles, they need someone in charge of the marketing side of the club. They face the unenviable task of attracting a supporter base in Oxford while also keeping their London contingent sweet. Then there's the mission of trying to make the traditional Welsh-ness of the Exiles as appealing as possible to those over the bridge in Wales while maximising their central funding by fielding English-qualified players. It's not an easy task but a firm strategy is needed as the last thing the Exiles will want is to be playing in front of an empty Kassam Stadium after all their hard work.
London Welsh need Gavin Henson to impress © Getty Images
London Welsh have already claimed that they will be putting on buses for their London-based supporters next term so this will be an essential move in packing out the Kassam. They also need to tailor their matchday experience so that it appeals to first-time rugby viewers and seasoned supporters alike. Keeping the price of the beer low - unlike the Championship play-off final - would also be an appreciated move. On the practical side of running a Premiership club, the dual-tenancy of the Kassam with Oxford United will lead to the pitch coming under a great deal of wear and tear so they need a superb grounds man to make sure that Welsh are on a level playing field.
They need their marquee signing to repay the Exiles' trust
London Welsh need to sell season tickets, that much is obvious. The difficult task will be attracting hoards of supporters to the Kassam Stadium. The signing of Gavin Henson may go some way to achieving this. He will definitely bring the fans through the turnstiles but London Welsh need him performing on the field rather than making headlines off the field. Is Henson the right man for London Welsh? In Jones they have the perfect mentor for the troubled ex-Wales international and he'd certainly attract a crowd if he is playing at his unpredictable best. It is a huge risk to have brought in Henson but they will have to gamble if they are to secure Premiership survival.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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