June 29, 2012
Aviva Premiership rugby will grace the Kassam Stadium in Oxford next season © PA Photos
It was an agonising few hours for London Welsh and their supporters but surely the pain was worth it - they are now an Aviva Premiership club and justice has been done.
The Championship winners were initially denied the chance to step up from the Championship having failed to meet the all-important, or so we thought, 'minimum standards criteria' but they refused to accept that fate. They had defied the odds, and a convoluted play-off system, to earn the right to join the elite and nothing was going to stand in their way.
Angered by a clear double standard that ruled their proposed ground share, at Oxford United FC's Kassam Stadium, was not acceptable when four existing Premiership clubs operated under similar arrangements this past season, and with growing support from across the rugby spectrum, they mounted a formidable defence backed by legal heavyweights confident of over-turning the decision and making fools of the game's governing bodies.
As soon as it emerged that the 'primacy of tenure' criteria was the major stumbling block, this issue was immediately elevated from the age-old promotion/relegation debate to something much bigger encompassing the future of the professional game in England. Premiership Rugby faced a major public relations battle with growing concern that barriers were being constructed to protect the interests of the leading clubs. Far from ensuring that English rugby's top flight went from strength to strength, they were harming the development of the game.
The desire to protect the investment of those keeping the country's 12 leading clubs alive was understandable but this must not come at the expense of the wider game. To deny the leading clubs from the Championship to the chance to join the Premiership party when they appear fully equipped to do so was an insult to those keeping the second tier alive.
As a result of this landmark ruling, Premiership Rugby must review the whole process, re-visit the promotion/relegations debate and question their own role in such matters in the hope of preventing a repeat.
London Welsh's crusade may have been successful but the club faces an even more daunting battle to preserve its hard-earned Premiership status. Robbed of priceless preparation time both on and off the pitch, the club face a race against time to complete a squad that can hold its own against the best in the country.
The battle lines for the new season will be drawn in a few days with the publication of the fixtures when the joy of seeing their name alongside the elite and the exciting prospect of Premiership rugby gracing a new stage will be replaced by the sobering fact that they must be ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Harlequins and Leicester in a matter of weeks.
That scenario would require Newcastle to take this decision lying down and there is no guarantee they will do that. The Falcons' response to the decision will rest on how harshly treated they feel and their views as to the strength of London Welsh's case. Then it will be left to the club's owner Semore Kurdi and the board whether to contest the decision and dig in their heels in the hope of preserving their Premiership status.
There is little hope that such a course of action would reach a conclusion ahead of the new season that is slated to begin the first weekend in September and that thought that must send a shiver down Premiership Rugby's spine.
As controversial as it may sound to the club's fans, the Falcons may be better off conceding defeat before embarking on a season of re-development under new boss Dean Richards out of the Premiership spotlight. A hefty parachute payment would cushion the fall and a squad not short on talent within their playing and coaching ranks could easily dominate the Championship landscape, have the turnstiles spinning as a result, and return to the Premiership a revitalised force. The club's initial reaction to the ruling suggests it is one that appeals.
The end of an epic season would appear to be upon us but don't count on it. All parties will now review the full judgement and any further fallout should drop just in time for the supposed confirmation of the Aviva Premiership fixtures on Wednesday.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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