What close season?
August 18, 2010
The well-travelled Samoan Epi Taione will be gracing the Championship in London Welsh colours this season © Getty Images
The players might have been able to disappear and indulge in some sun worship before reporting back refreshed and raring to go for pre-season training but there is no such luxury for anyone trying to manage a Championship club - as I've learned to my cost this summer.
The golf handicap, which is normally coming down at this time of year, has soared into the teens and any thought of a holiday has had to be postponed. Summer is actually the busiest time of year if you are a Championship club with any ambition.
The first thing we had to sort out was the fixture list. With a 12-club league, play-offs have to be part of the equation but everybody agreed that last year's format was far from perfect. Moseley were spitting teeth when it seemed likely they were going to be relegated after a bad start to the play-offs. Despite having won 10 games during the regular season compared to Birmingham's nought they started level going into the crucial relegation phase notwithstanding the fact that Birmingham actually finished with a minus 9 total after being docked 15 points for financial irregularities.
This was obviously unfair and a new format was eventually agreed whereby the clubs going into the relegation play-offs will carry through a point for every win this season - which would have given Moseley a healthy buffer.
Similarly, it was felt that there was not enough incentive to win the regular season league because you again started level in the promotion play-offs so, once a top eight finish was assured there was little to play for.
This year the top two clubs will carry through three points, the next two will take two points, fifth and sixth a point with seventh and eighth starting on zero.
It was also decided we should add in a quarter-final knockout round in the British & Irish Cup. With five-match pools, clubs playing away three times are clearly at a disadvantage and some complained their interest (and therefore spectator interest) could be ended after a first round defeat if only the pool winners went through to the semi-final knockout stage. Not ideal - we are starting the season a week earlier than many of us would have wished - but eventually the compromise was agreed.
That sorted it was on to domestic matters. Losing last year's head coach, Danny Wilson, to Newport Gwent Dragons at a late stage meant a quick re-think. Phil Greening moved up to head coach and after protracted negotiation we have Mike Friday (his old boss in the England Sevens set-up) confirmed as his assistant.
Hopefully, it will give us a more balanced coaching team with Friday being an 'attack' specialist. We shall soon see. Next there were the players' contracts to finalise - Greening wanted to put his own stamp on the squad, of course, and that led to protracted renegotiations and some late changes. On to the new kit deal! More negotiations before Samurai secured the contract for the next three years. I think it's the best we could have done.
On to the lay-out at Old Deer Park - always a sensitive issue because we share the ground with Richmond Cricket Club and have to consult on everything. We made big changes last year, some worked and some were a waste of time - the temporary grandstand which nobody wanted to use, for example.
The hospitality marquee was much more successful but too extravagant so another re-think before ordering a modified version. Next job - planning permission. Must get that right or the London Borough of Richmond will be on our backs.
To add spice to everything - this is our 125th anniversary season and it kicks-off with the Welsh Guards staging a spectacular Military Tattoo - music, marching and fireworks as well as some rugby - at ODP next Wednesday evening. With our limited resources it's all hands to the pump but thankfully everything has fallen into place - now praying for good weather. And behind the scenes we're making sure we comply with all the extra regulation from the RFU that modern health and safety protocol requires.
More expense and limited resources but that's life in the Championship. The RFU wanted to create a second tier of professional rugby for all the right reasons but at present the funding is less than adequate so life is difficult as every Championship backer will tell you. London Welsh are determined to mount another assault on promotion to the Premiership - we know we'll need a new ground so preparations for that are also at an advanced stage - so funding is always at the forefront.
It's a massive challenge as every Championship club will tell you. Fortunately, the team seems to be coming together well - can't wait to see the impact Epi Taione will have in the Championship - and we've already played London Irish in a pre-season 'friendly'. Once the season begins it will actually become slightly less hectic - I might even take a few days off. Roll-on the last weekend in August!
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