London Welsh stars free to leave
April 18, 2013
London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips admits the club will have to drastically tighten its belt next season © Getty Images
London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips insists he will not stand in the way of coach Lyn Jones or any of the playing squad should they want leave the club at the end of the season.
The Exiles were relegated from the Aviva Premiership last weekend and while there is a faint hope they may yet avoid the drop if the winner's of the Championship fail to meet the 'minimum standards' for entry to the top flight, the club is preparing for worst.
In a further body blow to London Welsh's future, Kelvin Byron, a major shareholder who played a major role in funding their rise to the Premiership and helped save them from liquidation in 2009, has also announced he will cut his ties with the club at the end of the season leaving a huge financial void.
As a result, the club have already begun a cost-cutting drive with chief executive Tony Copsey standing down earlier this week and it appears he will not be the last to exit. "Relegation has left us at a crossroads and while we want to move forward with confidence, everything depends on finance," Phillips told The Independent.
"A number of players were recruited last year on the basis that they would be playing Premiership rugby and it would be churlish of us to prevent them taking up opportunities elsewhere. We have had total commitment from the squad and when people give their all, their loyalty deserves to be recognised and reciprocated."
Relegation could therefore see a host of front line players move on with high-profile names such as captain Jonathan Mills, former Wales fly-half Gavin Henson and Argentina internationals Julio Farias Cabello and Gonzalo Tiesi seemingly up-for-grabs. The same goes for Jones with Phillips telling the newspaper he would not hold him to the final year on his current contract if his services were wanted elsewhere.
Fuelling the fears of fans is the uncertainty regarding where the club will play next season having swapped their traditional Old Deer Park home for the Kassam Stadium in Oxford this season. Reports have suggested the cost of relegation will be £2m with that partially off-set by a parachute payment of £1.4m from Premiership Rugby with the source of funding to meet that shortfall set to be key in whether they remain in Oxford - although they are not contractually obliged to do so.
"In a sense, the questions over finance and venue go together," said Phillips, who insists they could not stay at the Kassam Stadium without negotiating a substantial cut in rent. "We feel we have had tremendous support from the people of Oxford and it may be that there are potential investors in the area who are interested in getting involved. It is also possible that we'll return to Old Deer Park [the club's traditional home in south-west London]. At present, all this is up for discussion."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould