John Taylor Column
Margin of defeat was unacceptable
September 6, 2012
London Welsh came up some way short in their Aviva Premiership debut against Leicester Tigers last weekend © Getty Images
Car Parking and an Asian Wedding proved the biggest challenge on our first day in the Aviva Premiership - apart from Leicester Tigers, of course.
After the turmoil of the past few months it was an amazing feeling when John Mills, the London Welsh captain, led the team out at the Kassam Stadium for our first game in the top division. I have to confess there was some trepidation - what sort of crowd would we attract? Would the match-day plan work as well as we had rehearsed? Would we be competitive on the field?
As far as the match itself was concerned we were a little disappointed. Yes, we proved we will not be outclassed in the Premiership but the margin of defeat was unacceptable. The general consensus was that we confounded those who predicted we would be whipping boys but one game proves nothing.
Forget the controversy about the forward pass that was not referred to the TMO. The biggest disappointment was that we knew we would be punished for any defensive lapses - that is one of the biggest differences between the Championship and the Aviva Premiership - but, despite the emphasis our head coach, Lyn Jones, had put on it we lost concentration having fought our way back into the match at half-time and it cost us dear.
No excuses, we had a poor third quarter and we failed to kick our goals; that probably doubled the margin of the defeat. The good news is that we were playing Leicester, the strongest team season in season out in England, but we have to play Harlequins, the current champions on Friday evening - a five day turn around to further test our mettle and our preparations - then Exeter who started with a 40 point victory.
It is a huge ask but the real test is whether we have moved forward or slipped back at the end of the first fortnight. Some have suggested our season really starts against Sale on September 21 - we simply cannot afford to think like that.
It is a fact of life that we are the team with the smallest wage bill and the least strength in depth - most of the players you really want are just not available at the beginning of July and for well documented reasons we could not finalise most signings until then. Inevitably, Sod's Law also took a hand - Gavin Henson was injured (a complete accident despite some of the speculation) in a pre-season friendly so we started without our main playmaker.
Nevertheless, we looked pretty solid in the scrums - an absolute essential in English rugby at this level - and we showed we can score tries. Now we have to get the line-out right and work on that concentration.
Lyn Jones summed it up, 'We're four months behind most clubs in the Aviva premiership and probably four years behind Leicester.' The same applies off the field.
The old hockey pavilion at Old Deer Park that houses our offices is bursting at the seams. We have more than doubled our staff but need more - everybody is working flat out to get us up to speed.
Championship clubs live hand to mouth. They are small businesses working with a skeleton staff because that is the only way they can survive. It changes overnight when you graduate to the Aviva Premiership.
A Premiership club cannot exist without a fully automated on-line ticketing system. They are not cheap and as anybody trying to get tickets for our game against Leicester will have discovered it is anything but automatic that they work faultlessly from day one. Apologies to everybody who experienced problems and thanks for your understanding - everything is now supposed to have been sorted, fingers crossed for the Exeter game!
Overall, we were pleased with the crowd figure of 7,000 for our first game. We are conscious that Leicester probably brought more fans than we can expect from most clubs but it was gratifying to discover the appetite for Premiership rugby in Oxfordshire and through our new Community department, based in Oxford, we shall be looking to build links with all the local clubs and schools as well as both universities.
I am told the biggest ethnic minority in Oxfordshire is the Welsh and there was certainly a big new contingent alongside those who travelled from London. If we could convert all those who attended the Indian wedding into rugby fans it would add another 1,000 to the gate.
This is again one of the legacies of our late, late admission to the Premiership. Asian weddings are usually very lavish affairs and are often booked years in advance and the Kassam Stadium has become a much sought after venue so this was in the book long before we were.
In the end the only down-side was that it exacerbated the parking problems. One of the great attractions of the Kassam Stadium is the 2,000 plus free parking spaces so I have to admit we were taken by surprise by the traffic jams.
Suffice to say we are aware and working hard to make sure that too is sorted out before the Exeter game (look at the London Welsh website for information). Bear with us, we are 100% committed, we know we are still playing catch-up but we're narrowing the gap on and off the field!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh