x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Keeping up is on Lyn Jones's mind

Lyn Jones, coach of the London Exiles, is focusing on whether his side will be allowed to move up after winning their play-off.

Before taking the top job with the London Welsh, Lyn Jones coached rugby at the British School Al Khubairat. Now he is waiting on word of the London Welsh's promotion.
Before taking the top job with the London Welsh, Lyn Jones coached rugby at the British School Al Khubairat. Now he is waiting on word of the London Welsh's promotion.

Less than two weeks before his squad is due to report back for pre-season training, London Welsh coach Lyn Jones still does not know which division his high-flying rugby union side will play in next season.

Jones's Exiles won 66-41 on aggregate last month in a tense two-legged Championship play-off final against Cornish Pirates to secure their spot in England's top-flight Premiership.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) subsequently overturned that promotion after auditing the club's plans to stage its home games away from Old Deer Park in south-west London.

The RFU's Professional Game Board ruled that the club's proposal to ground share next season at Oxford United Football Club's 12,500 capacity Kassam Stadium did not meet all of the Premiership's minimum standards criteria.

London Welsh's appeal against this decision will be heard by an independent panel chaired by James Dingemans QC on June 28. Newcastle Falcons, who finished bottom of the Premiership last season and should have been relegated, will remain in the top-flight unless the Exiles manage to overturn the ruling.

London Welsh believe they have a strong case, particularly as three existing Premiership sides - Saracens, London Wasps and London Irish - will ground share with professional football clubs next term.

Bleddyn Phillips, the London Welsh chairman, issued a statement earlier this month stating that "any team which demonstrates on the field of play that it has the requisite skills and resources to win through to the top of its division ... should be allowed to move on to the next tier thereby upholding the competitive spirit of sport and the ethos of promotion and relegation on merit-based principles.

"That London Welsh, in common with other teams already in the Premiership who ground share ... has arrangements in place to play its 'home' games next season at a top sporting venue ... to our mind makes our case for promotion even more compelling and the reasoning behind its rejection even more difficult to fathom."

For his part Jones, who left Abu Dhabi last summer after a successful two-year stint as director of rugby at the British School Al Khubairat, remains sanguine about the club's prospects.

"What's in front of us now is potentially another massive year," said Jones, who was back in the UAE recently for a brief summer break.

"If promotion is granted, the next couple of months are going to be very challenging.

"We'd be up against world-class opposition in the Premiership, so recruiting the right players will be important as will making sure the existing members of the squad are strong and well conditioned."

Jones is no stranger to top-class rugby having previously been head coach at Ospreys, the Welsh Pro 12 club, where he won two Celtic League titles. He also enjoyed a spell at Newport Gwent Dragons before joining Al Khubairat in 2009. Jones is also used to the ups and downs that professional sport can and often does deliver.

"In life and in sport you get highs and lows. It is knowing how to deal with those situations when they arrive," said the former Wales international.

nmarch@thenational.ae

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