Lyn Jones vows Exiles will return but relegation cuts deep

London Welsh 14 Northampton 31

The Kassam Stadium

They deserved better – infinitely better, as anyone with a beating rugby heart would happily agree – but when London Welsh yielded their Premiership status against Northampton in Oxford yesterday, it was as much in the spirit of black comedy as of grand defiance. Directors quitting the board, hot rumours over the position of the chief executive, the last-minute withdrawal of the wonderfully resilient captain Jonathan Mills, another raft of injuries… all things considered, Napoleon's retreat from Moscow was easier than this retreat from the top flight.

Less than 24 hours before kick-off, it emerged that the Exiles' principal financier Kelvin Bryon had finally decided to walk away from a club he had done his level best to keep afloat with a seven-figure investment. "I've just had the worst six to nine months of my life," he was quoted as saying, and he went on to complain bitterly about the lopsided financial playing field on which newly promoted clubs must attempt to operate.

Depressingly, there was more. Documents filed with Companies House indicated that the vice-chairman John Taylor – a celebrated flanker who performed with great distinction for both Wales and the Lions back in the day – was also severing ties. Meanwhile, no one at the club could confirm whether Tony Copsey, the former Wales lock, was still running things from the CEO's office.

"It's an interesting club, this one," said Lyn Jones, whose performance as head coach over the last eight months has marked him out as one of the cleverest tacticians and shrewdest team-builders in the European game, as well as a motivator of considerable brilliance. "I'm sorry we couldn't build on the victories we recorded before Christmas, because another three wins would have done the trick. But we're down now and we have to get on with it. What we need to do is acknowledge this as a fantastic experience, go away and understand it, and come back with a better plan."

It all sounded terribly rational: a sensible, grown-up response to a painful, if widely anticipated demise. But the truth of it is that London Welsh could have survived in the elite league –and, quite possibly, thrived in it – but for two things way beyond their coach's control. First, there was the delay over confirmation of their promotion last spring as the men who run professional rugby in this country did everything in their considerable power to block them under minimum criteria regulations. This left Jones so far up a gum tree on the player recruitment front, he was at risk of contracting altitude sickness. Quite how he pieced together a squad as competitive as it was will forever remain a mystery.

And second? Second was the registration scandal surrounding the New Zealand scrum-half Tyson Keats, who unknowingly played 10 games on false papers filed by the team manager Mike Scott, who left the club towards the end of last year and is now serving a life ban. Jones's initial reaction to news of this calamity has never been made public, but it may be that the phrase "thermo-nuclear" fails to do it justice.

If he was a walking mushroom cloud a few weeks ago – the Keats episode cost his side five Premiership points that had been bought and paid for in sweat and blood – the coach was philosophical enough yesterday. London Welsh may not have shown the best of themselves against powerful opponents with both eyes fixed on a semi-final place, but with such influential players as Hudson Tonga'uiha, Gavin Henson, Franck Montanella, Neil Briggs and Ed Jackson out of circulation, and the splendid Mills being forced to give best to a hip injury he did not realise he had until shortly before the start, this was hardly a seismic shock. And anyway, there were enough courageous performances from the rump of the side to warm the cockles.

Tom Arscott turned in another strong performance at full-back and there was much to admire from Matt Corker and Kirill Kulemin in a reconstructed engine room. Indeed, there was a point midway through the second quarter, just after Nick Scott had completed a breakaway try following an interception from the veteran centre Sonny Parker, when it seemed possible that relegation would be delayed for at least a week. The Exiles were 7-6 up and looking the part, having weathered a strong opening from the Midlanders.

Two tries by the substitute centre Tom May in the space of a couple of minutes, both of them horribly soft, put paid to the notion of a stay of execution, but the Exiles forwards at least had the pleasure of propelling the high-born likes of Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes over their own line for a pushover try before allowing Luther Burrell to claim a valuable bonus point for Northampton with his second touchdown, deep in the final act.

From the visitors' perspective, this was not a performance to bolster their self-belief for the big games ahead. Many of their best players, from Hartley and Tom Wood up front to Lee Dickson and Ben Foden in decision-making positions behind, looked a little frazzled, and if they are still a notch off when they go to Harlequins for the final round of regular season matches early next month, they will surely suffer the consequences.

But yesterday was about the Exiles and their honourable failure. Jones confessed afterwards that the Keats affair had been profoundly damaging – "It took away a lot of energy and cost us a lot of time," he said – but equally, he was upbeat about the future. "We don't know what's around the corner, but I'm sure we'll be taking on Bristol for the Championship title next season," he continued. "There are some tears down there in the dressing room, but there is also a steely focus and I'm happy to carry on serving. I have drive and I have ambition. With a strategy and a vision, we'll have a chance of coming straight back up."

London Welsh: Tries Scott, Browne; Conversions Davies, Ross; Northampton: Tries May 2, Burrell 2; Conversion Lamb; Penalties Myler 3.

London Welsh T Arscott; N Scott (T Voyce, 75), S Parker, S Jewell (J Lewis, 11), S Stegmann; G Ross (capt), A Davies (R Lewis, 60); T Bristow (A Joly 75), G Bateman (D George, 75), P Ion (J Tideswell, 60), M Corker, K Kulemin (A Brown, 75), J Farias Cabello, M Hills, D Browne (A Balding, 71).

Northampton B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi (T May, 19), L Burrell, J Elliott; S Myler (R Lamb, 65), L Dickson (M Roberts, 59); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 59), D Hartley (capt, M Haywood, 71), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 54), C Lawes, C Day (Tonga'uiha, 65-74), T Wood, P Dowson (C Clark, 54), S Manoa (G J Van Velze, (h-t).

Referee G Garner (Warwickshire).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Sport
Sam Allardyce
sport
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Bob Dylan
art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?