Rugby: Welsh ready for challenge

Staying in the Aviva Premiership is hard enough for any promoted club, but should London Welsh survive this term they will have overcome overwhelming odds.

Rugby News: London Welsh

Just three years ago the Exiles went into administration shortly after turning professional, and talk of promotion was a long way from the lips of any supporter at Old Deer Park.

A bitter battle followed as officials sought to regain control of the club after a buy-out by a company headed by businessman Neil Hollinshead failed to produce the required investment.

But once the dispute was settled in 2010 the club were soon on an upward curve.

Their progress was capped by last season's superb Championship success under the stewardship of ex-Ospreys coach Lyn Jones, but Welsh had yet further hurdles to overcome before they could take their place in the Premiership.

They were originally denied the right to take their place in the top flight after the Rugby Football Union adjudged they did not meet the minimum standards required.

This was primarily because they did not have primacy of tenure at the Kassam Stadium, which they will share with Oxford United from this season.

But Welsh successfully argued that the primacy of tenure rule breached British and European competition law, and were finally granted Premiership status at the end of June.

That has left coach Jones in a desperate race against time to pull together a squad capable of surviving the rigours of a Premiership season, but without a raft of options to select from.

The acquisition of Wales' centre Gavin Henson got all the headlines but experienced performers such as Tom Arscott, Daniel Browne and Neil Briggs have also joined as the Premiership newboys look to defy the odds.

But Jones admits the late confirmation of their promotion has made for a very difficult summer and pre-season.

"It's been hard after being promoted on July 1," he said.

"The challenge for me now is to push forward and establish a team, and get the players to play as a side rather than as individuals.

"Have we recruited well? I'm not sure. Come July 1, we went to the barrel and there wasn't much in there, but we've had a look around and I'm confident that we have focused on size and experience, which are key factors for the week-to-week slog in the Premiership."

The size of the monumental task facing Jones and company is brought into stark focus by their opening fixtures.

They host nine-time winners Leicester on the opening weekend, and follow that with a trip to face reigning champions Harlequins at The Stoop.

It is a fiendishly tough opening, and Jones admits his side will not be at 100% when they meet the Tigers.

But he hopes the lessons learned over the opening two weekends will stand them in good stead for the rest of the campaign.

"It's not just Leicester on the first Sunday, it's Quins on the Friday after," he said.

"It's a real test for our squad and their ability, but playing against Leicester will clearly show us what the standards are that we need to reach to do well in the league.

"It will highlight our strengths and our weaknesses. We know we're not going to be the finished article in time for the first game and we're not trying to be, what we need to do is learn as quickly as we can so we have time to grow.

"Since July 1 we've brought in six players, so we now have a squad of 39. At this stage, we really don't know where we're weak and where we're strong.

"We know there are a lot of world-class players in the Premiership and the challenge we will have is dealing with those players."\



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