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RUGBY: Oxford backing so critical for London Welsh
LOCAL support will play a key role in how long London Welsh play Aviva Premiership rugby at the Kassam Stadium, according to the club’s chairman.
The Exiles secured promotion on Friday evening when an independent panel overturned a ruling by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) which deemed the Championship winners ineligible to take their place in the top flight.
It means a ground-share with Oxford United will go ahead, pending any last-ditch legal action from Newcastle Falcons, who were relegated as a result.
The north-east club are expected to reveal today whether they intend to contest the move.
Despite the uncertainty, London Welsh are beginning to plan in earnest for their debut season in the Premiership, with the fixtures announced on Wednesday.
Club chairman Bleddyn Phillips told the Oxford Mail in May they would look for gates of 5-10,000 if they moved to the Kassam Stadium.
And last night he acknowledged the degree of local backing would be critical to the success of the venture.
“We will certainly be there for the short and medium term,” he said.
“It depends largely on how we perform on the pitch, but if we do well there’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to be there for some period of time.
“It also depends on how we are able to build our support base there – if we can generate a lot of local enthusiasm that’s obviously going to be a key factor.”
With the clock ticking down to the new season, the club face a huge task to get ready for the top flight.
As well as a host of logistical issues which need to be ironed out, the most fundamental job will be to assemble a squad capable of competing in the Premiership.
One of the first names linked with the newly promoted club is former Wales star Gavin Henson.
London Welsh head coach Lyn Jones worked with the centre earlier in his career and although the 30-year-old’s troubles have been well documented, Henson would add some box-office appeal.
Phillips declined to be drawn on specific targets, but was clear the club would not compromise the culture which won them promotion.
He said: “We have to make sure we get the best players we can, but as Lyn Jones has said, it’s important those players buy into the ethos and team spirit which has got us to where we are.
“I think it’s fair to say if there are good players who are willing to subscribe to what we’re trying to do we’ll be interested.
“But we can’t ign-ore other factors and have to make sure they won’t seek unreasonable financial rewards.”
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