The electric pace of Kristian Phillips could prove key to London Welsh pushing themselves back into the Greene King IPA Championship top four according to new captain Ben Pienaar.
The London Welsh skipper has been impressed by what he has seen from the former Ospreys wing so far in pre-season and expects him to make a big impact this season.
The 25-year-old winger and Wales Sevens international has had two spells at the Ospreys, either side of three seasons with Scarlets, but managed just two appearances last year.
“He’s been electrifying in training hopefully he can put it into the games, and I think he’ll surprise a few people,” Pienaar said, speaking at the Greene King IPA Championship season launch at the St Margaret’s Tavern in Twickenham.
“He brings experience, he talks a really good rugby game and he understands it really well.
“He helps the boys around him and he speaks very well to the boys and with that along with his skills and his pace it’ll be something special.
“It’s a huge honour for someone to ask you to lead the club, whether I get selected for the games, that’s still to be decided, but as far as the club is concerned I’m looking forward to it.”
London Welsh were relegated without a Premiership win in 2015 but were still expected to mount a strong challenge for a return to England’s top tier last season.
As things turned out, the Welsh narrowly missed out on a top four finish and will face competition from the likes of London Irish, Doncaster Knights and Yorkshire Carnegie to reach the play-offs in this campaign.
And Pienaar says the Championship continues to get tougher with every passing year.
“We were disappointed finishing fifth, we were aiming for a top four finish, unfortunately the start of last season wasn’t quite how we wanted it,” he said.
“We finished strongly, our last ten games were fantastic and hopefully we can carry that forward to this season.
“It’s definitely not getting easier, the boys are getting bigger, tougher, stronger, you are getting boys from the Premiership come down still able to perform.
“London Irish have just come down and they’ll be a really tough team to beat. It’s going to be interesting and we’re going to have to be at the top of our game.
“You can’t put your money on anyone in particular to make the top four. All the teams are strong this year so it’s going to be a really good battle.
“The club has been promoted twice now unfortunately we couldn’t stay up the last time, hopefully this year we can get into the top four, get promoted and stay there.”
London Welsh kick off their new season against Rotherham, a match that Pienaar is expecting to be a tough physical battle.
He said: “It’s always a tough game because they’re big physical boys they come hard at you and it’s going to be one of those games where we’re going to have to really dig deep.
“They’ve got Justin Burnell there as head coach who is a very good coach and he understands the game very well so I’m sure they’ll bring some surprises and we’ll have to be ready for that.”
Formed in 2009, the Greene King IPA Championship is the second tier of professional rugby in England. To keep up to date with the latest news, follow @ChampRugby on Twitter.