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February 27, 2013

Relegation battle could turn farcical

on 02/27/2013

Could London Welsh's valiant battle against the drop be in vain? © Getty Images

London Welsh's stay in the Premiership could be ended in a lawyer's office next Tuesday, March 5. Ironically, their promotion last summer was only secured by lawyers after a battle about their tenancy of Oxford's Kassam Stadium for the current season.

The problem stems from poor administration at the club relating to the registration of Kiwi scrum half Tyson Keats. It appears he was incorrectly registered as an English player from the start of the season. Since the start of January he has been correctly registered with an ancestry visa, but prior to that he had played nine Premiership games.

London Welsh have put their hand up, informed the RFU, rectified the situation and parted company with Mike Scott, the former rugby manager at the club thought to be at fault. There is no whiff of a cover-up, just a sad aroma of sloppiness that could be very costly.

Precedent suggests London Welsh will be hit with a fine and points deduction. Exeter were fined £5,000 and docked two points for fielding too many overseas players in 2011. London Scottish lost three league points for fielding one unregistered player in one match in December.

If the lawyers decide that each match Keats played while the paperwork was botched is worth two points, Tony Copsey may as well hand the Kassam keys back to Oxford United and hitchhike back to Old Deer Park, dropping players along the way. Welsh would be sunk as a top flight club.

If it is deemed as one transgression and therefore invites a penalty similar to Exeter's in 2011, hope remains that relegation, currently a tussle between London Welsh, Sale and London Irish, will be settled on the field rather than by the lawyers.

These situations are never satisfactory. Sale and London Irish would be assured of Premiership safety if Welsh are hit hard next Tuesday, but it would be a hollow victory for them. Further, it would render the remaining six rounds of Premiership matches pointless for the bottom half of the table. Such neutering of the last quarter of the season would upset sponsors, reduce attendances, television audiences and public interest. In short, the Premiership would become a farce, a situation professional rugby cannot afford.

Festering behind the scenes are widely aired suspicions that some Premiership clubs are breaching the salary cap by various creative and/or devious means. None are proven, but if some clubs are wantonly using more playing talent than the £4.5million cap can buy, that would be a far greater crime than an isolated piece of bungled administration.

Sooner or later the salary cap issue will explode, and the Tyson Keats story will look minuscule. Whatever happens, promotion and relegation matters should be settled among those who train for their jobs in the gym, not at law school.



Posted Pete on 03/05/2013

Sorry, I don't agree with the rather odd reasoning of any points deduction would make a mockery of the final 6 games of the season.
London Welsh have fielded an ineligible player for 9 games of the season. This should be punished no matter what their league position or stage of the season, 9 points seems a reasonable penalty to me.

Posted Chris Henderson on 03/01/2013

If the last sentence in the above article was valid, London Welsh would of not been allowed promotion to the premiership, the way they broke their commitment to the rules of promotion, personally the management deserve everything they get. I just feel sorry for their fans who have to suffer fools in charge.

Posted Southstand on 02/28/2013

Unlike the Exeter case this can't be "deemed as one transgression . The reason being that although the RFU are responsible for checking the matchday squads regarding player eligibilty this responsibility does not extend to ensuring that the player is registered correctly in the first place. That's a player and club responsibility.
In the Exeter case the players concerned were correctly registered for the two games in question. However the RFU conceeded that they failed to spot any error in the selection of the overseas players in the first game and therefore played some part in the second offence. Hence the concurrent nature of the two points deduction for the two offences.

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Richard SeecktsRichard Seeckts’ rugby career consisted of one school match where he froze on the wing and despite no substitutes being available he was withdrawn from the game at half-time for mocking the opposition’s line-out calls. Thereafter Richard and the sport agreed active participation was not the way ahead, but that has not prevented him from avidly writing about and watching the game. He now contributes his random observations to the Crooked Feed blog on