RFU rules against London Welsh
May 23, 2012
Lyn Jones' side look set for another season in the RFU Championship © Getty Images
London Welsh's hopes for promotion to the Premiership have been dealt a near-fatal blow with the news that they have failed to meet the minimum standards criteria for English rugby's top flight.
The Rugby Football Union announced their decision this afternoon just six hours ahead of the Exiles' clash with Cornish Pirates in the first leg of the Championship final. London Welsh had hoped that an aggregate victory over their title rivals would allow them to join the elite but an RFU report carried out by independent auditors identified various failures, including not having primacy of tenure at their nominated Premiership ground - Oxford United's 12,500-capacity Kassam Stadium.
As a result, Premiership bottom club Newcastle will remain among the elite next term with no promotion taking place from the second tier. The Pirates did not choose to have an independent audit of their Mennaye Field ground, so were therefore ineligible for promotion prior to tonight's first leg and the return fixture in Oxford next Wednesday.
Welsh, whose chairman Bleddyn Phillips is a partner with the law firm Clifford Chance, have 14 days in which to lodge an appeal and ESPNscrum understands that the club will exercise that option once they have digested the full RFU decision.
The club's board of directors have responded to the RFU announcement by saying they will be "exploring all possible avenues off the pitch to ensure that if successful in winning the Championship, London Welsh will take its rightful place in the top flight of English rugby."
The London Welsh statement continued: "London Welsh RFC would like to express its grave disappointment on learning of this decision, coming as it does just a few hours ahead of the first leg of the club's Championship final against the Cornish Pirates.
"The club firmly believes that it has met the minimum standards criteria for promotion to the Premiership, particularly as regards the issue of primacy of tenure, and reaffirmed its belief in this respect in a detailed communication to the RFU as recently as Monday May 21 highlighting its case for having satisfied the MSC.
"The club has already sought clarification on this point, the detailed reasoning behind why primacy of tenure was not satisfied (among other things) having not yet been given by the RFU.
"The club is especially disappointed in this regard as a firm binding agreement, subject only to promotion to the Premiership, has already been concluded with Kassam Stadium - a ground with facilities the club believes to be at least the equal of many other grounds already hosting Premiership rugby and which itself hosted a Rugby Union Challenge Cup final only a few years ago.
"The club also notes that if promoted it would share its ground with a club from the FA, in common with other Premiership Clubs (such as London Irish, Sale, Wasps and Saracens). It is not clear why an exception made in the case of at least four top flight clubs (a third of the total) might not now be extended to a fifth."
In a statement, RFU directors said: "The Rugby Football Union's board of directors has considered the findings of the independent audit report requested by London Welsh, which determines a club's eligibility for promotion to the Aviva Premiership in line with the minimum standards criteria (MSC).
"The report, carried out by independent auditors, found that London Welsh has not met the MSC for the Aviva Premiership.
"The independent auditors identified various failures, including not having primacy of tenure at their nominated ground. This states that a club must demonstrate that they can host home fixtures at the time stipulated by Premiership Rugby and/or the host broadcaster.
"The RFU board ratified the findings and agreed, should London Welsh win the RFU Championship final following the second leg on May 30, they would not be eligible for promotion and Newcastle Falcons would remain in the Aviva Premiership.
"Cornish Pirates did not choose to have an independent audit of the Mennaye Field and so do not fulfil the criteria for promotion should they win the final. As a result, there will be no promotion from the RFU Championship this season."
The minimum standards criteria are set by the Professional Game Board (PGB) - a joint group from the RFU, Premiership Rugby, RFU Championship clubs and the Rugby Players' Association. But today's outcome will inevitably stir the hornet's nest issue of promotion and relegation between the Championship and Premiership, giving further ammunition to those who believe the Premiership is destined to become a closed shop.
Newcastle propped up the Premiership by a point despite winning their final game of the 22-game regular league season against fellow strugglers Wasps earlier this month. But the Falcons have now survived - barring any successful London Welsh appeal - and they can look forward to the 2012-13 campaign when Dean Richards will take charge as rugby director.
Falcons commercial director Duncan Edward said: "To be given the lifeline of playing in the Premiership next season and keeping top-class rugby in the region is unbelievable."
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