Exiles 'at the crossroads' with Lyn Jones and stars free to leave


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The Independent Online

London Welsh lost more than their Premiership status when they failed to beat Northampton last weekend: they also lost Kelvin Bryon, their principal benefactor. The forfeits may not end there. The club chairman, Bleddyn Phillips, said he would not hold any front-line player to his contract if a top-flight club showed an interest in his services.

"Relegation has left us at a crossroads," Phillips admitted, "and while we want to move forward with confidence, everything depends on finance. A number of players were recruited last year on the basis that they would be playing Premiership rugby and it would be churlish of us to prevent them taking up opportunities elsewhere. We have had total commitment from the squad and when people give their all, their loyalty deserves to be recognised and reciprocated."

The chairman said he would take a similar approach on the coaching front. Lyn Jones has performed minor miracles on a weekly basis in turning an unfamiliar, hastily thrown-together squad into a competitive outfit capable of beating the likes of Exeter and Bath, and his name will be at the top of the recruitment list for any Premiership club considering a change of direction. Jones has a year left on his current deal but Phillips will not dig in his heels if a tempting offer is made to the former Wales flanker.

Bryon's decision to withdraw financial support after two decades of heavy personal investment has left the Exiles in serious difficulties, and Phillips openly acknowledged that there were no cash-rich saviours on the horizon. As things stand, he and his fellow board members do not even have a clear idea of where London Welsh will play their rugby next term.

"In a sense, the questions over finance and venue go together," said the chairman, who stated last weekend that the club would be forced to leave the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, their home this season, unless the owners agreed to a substantial cut in rent. "We feel we have had tremendous support from the people of Oxford and it may be that there are potential investors in the area who are interested in getting involved.

"It is also possible that we'll return to Old Deer Park [the club's traditional home in south-west London]. At present, all this is up for discussion."

Newcastle, hot favourites to replace London Welsh by winning this season's Championship title, continued to strengthen by luring the England Under-20 outside-half Rory Clegg back to Kingston Park. A product of the Newcastle academy, Clegg has been at Harlequins since 2009.

Meanwhile, Worcester have confirmed that Dean Ryan, the former England No 8 who has coached both Bristol and Gloucester, will take over as director of rugby early next month. Ryan succeeds the head coach Richard Hill, who parted company with the Midlanders last weekend.