London Welsh prioritising stability as they climb the rugby pyramid

By Tom Holmes
February 4 2020, 17.10

Richmond-based rugby club London Welsh are prioritising their own stability over attempting to race up the rugby pyramid.

London Welsh know that rugby is a demanding sport off the field as much as on it, having experienced unbelievable highs and incredible lows in recent years.

Having been promoted to the Premiership in 2014, by the end of December 2016, the club was in liquidation.

The club was thrown out of the Championship and forced to start again in Herts/Middlesex 1, Tier 9 of the rugby structure.

“It was bizarre,” head of men’s rugby Jonathan Shankland said, adding: “It is a long way to drop for such a large and famous club, and it was a pretty dark place.

“But we’ve embraced it and we’ve made a lot of new friends on the way back up.”

DEDICATED: Jonathan Shankland is head of men’s rugby at London Welsh

London Welsh put a five-year plan in place to secure four promotions which would take them back into the National Leagues, Tiers 3-5.

They are on track to secure their third straight promotion, which would put them in Tier 6 – London 1.

“The plan was a blunt instrument,” Shankland explained.

He added: “We’re a huge club with a huge following and we’re trying to nurture that.

“The goal is not to make it back to the Premiership or back to the Championship but to be sustainable.

“We want to keep the club building back on its core values and traditions and see where that goes.”

Those traditional values are a big part of the London Welsh plan.

Shankland explained that everyone involved has been with the club for years, and the close links between London Welsh and its supporters are as close as ever.

He added: “Through the Premiership and Championship years, the club had become a bit distant from its core in my opinion.

“But London Welsh is a natural home for Welsh people playing rugby in London and we’re a club that gets under your skin.

“The only secret is the dedication and commitment of the core people involved on the board but also the supporters, the supporters’ clubs, sponsors and the coaches.”

Alongside a dedicated support base and regular attendances over 1000, Welsh have the pedigree and infrastructure to ensure that they can attract players without needing to pay them.

On the pitch, they’re motoring back up the leagues, and recently went 29 league games unbeaten before a 14-10 defeat to Fullerians on January 25.

Shankland has seen all of the highs and lows of English rugby with London Welsh, joining as a player in 2011, and taking on a director’s role in 2017 when the club restructured.

The 37-year-old performs a lot of roles within the club’s structure, but one of the key ones is making sure what happened in 2017 doesn’t happen again.

He said: “If someone comes in with financial support then we would look at it with a keener eye than in the past.

“Previously, when money has been offered by people not connected to the club, we struggled to turn it down, to differentiate what is genuine or to know if people have the money they say they have.

“But now we aren’t interested in money, and we only want people involved in the club who care about the future and sustainability of it.”

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