London Welsh hit with points reduction and fine
March 7, 2013
London Welsh insist no fault lies with the player in question - scrum-half Tyson Keats © PA Photos
London Welsh have been handed a five-point deduction, with an additional five-point deduction suspended until the end of the 2013-14 season, and been fined £15,000 for fielding an ineligible player in the Aviva Premiership, the Rugby Football Union has confirmed.
The recently-promoted side have paid a high price for failing to register scrum-half Tyson Keats correctly with the club's former rugby manager Mike Scott the subject of a separate RFU disciplinary hearing having falsely claimed that the player was English and forged a passport in a bid to prove it. The New Zealand-born Keats was later granted an ancestry visa that allowed him to work in the UK and therefore play but not before he had made 10 league appearances for the club.
As a result, London Welsh slump to the bottom of the Premiership table - two points behind Sale Sharks - and face a monumental task to preserve their top flight status having only been promoted last season. Chief executive Tony Copsey has confirmed the club will be lodging an appeal against the ruling but if they are not successful then they have just five Premiership games to rescue their campaign.
Panel chairman Jeremy Summers, who sat in judgement alongside Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty and Peter Budge, said: "This was an extraordinary case, and one that it is hoped will never be repeated. The sanction imposed was structured to reflect the seriousness of the matter, which included conduct that was dealt with by the police, but also to import a rugby-based proportionality to the overall position that took into account the wider interests of the game."
London Welsh insist no fault resides with the New Zealand-born Keats who joined the club from now-defunct Italian club Aironi having played Super Rugby for the Crusaders and Hurricanes. Instead they have pointed the finger at Scott who is widely criticised in the full ruling and who received a caution from the Metropolitan Police for his actions.
The issue came to a head when London Welsh queried why they were not receiving English Qualified Player payments from the RFU with respect to Keats. Scott had told the player's agent and the club that Keats had been granted an ancestry visa by virtue of his paternal grandfather, who was born in England, but that was not the case with Keats only in possession of a visitors' visa that did not allow him to work in the country.
Scott went on sick leave in December but emailed the club's director of rugby Steve Lewis admitting he had created "one almighty mess" because he had been trying to get Keats' visa "through the back door". When London Welsh's interim team manager David Jenkins became aware that the RFU were in possession of forged documents, he alerted Copsey, who instigated an internal investigation, requested an urgent meeting with the RFU and informed the police.
The RFU disciplinary panel accepted that Scott, a "rogue employee", had acted alone and they concluded a deduction of more than five points would have been "disproportionate in all the circumstances". But the panel also found London Welsh culpable for not having a professional enough management structure, for not acting upon the warning signs and for not informing the RFU as soon they became aware Keats had been working unlawfully in the UK.
"The club was unknowingly the victim of one individual's fraudulent conduct and it was London Welsh which discovered the fraud and brought it to the attention of the RFU," the club said in a statement. "The Panel however has punished London Welsh on the basis that it is to blame for what that individual has done."
Copsey underlined the club's determination to fight the ruling. "London Welsh are hugely disappointed and shocked by the ruling made by the RFU Hearings Committee, which we believe is extremely harsh under the circumstances," he said. "It is our belief the ruling is fundamentally flawed and I can confirm that the club will definitely be appealing the decision."
The club's ascent to the Premiership was also subject to a lengthy appeal process that only reached a conclusion in June - just a few weeks before the start of the season. They were initially denied promotion after the RFU ruled that they had failed to meet the minimum standards criteria, namely primacy of tenure at Oxford's Kassam Stadium where they have played their home games this season.
The appeal panel agreed with the club's argument that the applied criteria contravened EU and UK competition laws, and Newcastle were subsequently relegated after finishing bottom of the Premiership last May.
This season they have notched Premiership victories against Exeter, Sale, Bath and London Irish but they have not won in the league since December 1. They resume their bid for survival away to Gloucester later this month with trips to Bath and Irish and home clashes against Northampton and Worcester also scheduled for the season run-in.
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