Ross helps newcomers feel at home

Scot provides pedigree as London Welsh look to stay up after shenanigans over stadium

When the ranting and raging over their right to promotion as Championship winners was finally done, London Welsh were left with this: a first-ever match in the Premiership today, at their home away from home in Oxford, against the nine-time champions Leicester, with a trip to the current title holders, Harlequins, to follow on Friday. The toughest of starts, in the least propitious of circumstances, but Welsh's Scottish fly-half Gordon Ross cannot stop smiling. "We're behind in our planning and we can come up with a list of excuses – but we're not doing that," he says. "We're going out to play, to do what we can, and if we can finish 11th we'll be absolutely ecstatic."

Ross, 34, is one of only 10 London Welsh players with experience of the Premiership: he joined Leeds from Edinburgh in 2002, and later played for Saracens. It is 10 years to the weekend since he made his Premiership debut as Leeds – after finishing bottom the previous season – kicked off at home to a heavyweight Leicester. The Tykes beat the Tigers 26-13 in a huge upset, and went on to finish fifth.

"I remember the match, and the celebrations we had that night going into the next day," says Ross, who kicked 14 of Leeds' points. "The big difference is that almost all the Leeds players had played in the Premiership before. You can't say that about most of the London Welsh guys. But though it's a cliche, the game's not played on paper. Funny results do happen."

For most of last season, as Welsh finished only fourth in the initial 22-match Championship programme that ended in February, promotion seemed far off. They timed their surge perfectly for the play-offs, leading to May's final against Cornish Pirates. But the first leg – a spectacular 37-21 victory in which Ross's playmaking and dropped goal were outstanding – coincided with the depressing news, appallingly timed, that London Welsh had failed the Premiership's entry criteria. They appealed to an independent panel.

Everyone, including London Welsh, agreed on two points: the famous "primacy of tenure" (which may be more usefully termed "sufficient tenure to stage a match when the broadcasters say so") serves a commercial and sporting purpose; and Welsh did not have it at the otherwise serviceable Kassam Stadium. The panel decided it was anti-competitive that up to four Premiership clubs did not have primacy of tenure either, and there had been unnecessary dithering in increasing the exemptions to five. London Welsh won.

"I was in London about to go to a show," Ross recalls, "and all of a sudden I got the phone call saying we were up. I was quite emotional – and I celebrated promotion with a glass of champagne by myself! Later, a few of us players met up and had a drink to celebrate." With a laugh, he adds: "And then you realise, 'God, we've got some work to do now'."

So here they are, 56 miles by road from their Richmond home, with a predicted attendance of 7,000 today and just two supporters' buses running from the London area. "Every game this year we've got to be at our best just to get a point, never mind a win," says Ross. "Some people might say we want to put two fingers up to the RFU but that's not come up in our team meetings."

It did not have to be like this, scrambling to get new players and living on hope. Two French front-rowers arrived last week, the club's gamble on Gavin Henson must wait six weeks while his fractured cheekbone mends though the arrival of the former Wales centre Sonny Parker, Sale hooker Neil Briggs, prop Paulica Ion from London Irish and scrum-half Nick Runciman returning from Gloucester will bring a little of that big-league knowhow.

In the late 1990s the then Wales coach Graham Henry proposed London Welsh as a base for the Principality's fifth region. Parochialism in Wales and nimbyism in England killed a fine idea at birth.

And, of course, London Welsh were a premier club before anyone thought of the Premiership. In the 1960s and '70s they were fêted for their legion of internationals, beautifully appointed clubhouse (Richard Burton and Liz Taylor would stop by en route to Hollywood) and Welsh roots planted in ever-so-English Richmond. But when leagues arrived in 1987 they were on the slide, from the second division to the fifth tier; flirting with the London regional leagues and losing in the mid-90s to Reading, North Walsham and Basingstoke – teams not fit to tie the bootlaces of Gerald Davies, JPR Williams and Mervyn Davies.

Coaches Mike Gosling, Clive Griffiths, Adrian Davies, Martin Jones, Danny Wilson and now Lyn Jones raised standards; board members Kelvin Bryon, David Hammond and Bill Carey Evans wrote the cheques. The Exiles made it through a dodgy period of administration in 2009.

They do not have the infrastructure of Worcester and Exeter, the exemplars of promoted sides. But if their pack – schooled by Kingsley Jones as temporary forwards coach – is up to it, there are promising backs in Joe Ajuwa, Hudson Tonga'uiha and Canada's Phil MacKenzie.

"I still believe I can read a game not too badly, even if some of the guys can't understand a word I say," says Ross the Scot. "John Taylor [former Wales and Lions flanker, now managing director] has only mentioned about 200 times his winning kick against Scotland many years ago. There's still a strong Welsh tradition here, but this is exciting for all the players who have worked their socks off to get to this point. Hopefully they'll embrace it and enjoy it."

London Welsh v Leicester Tigers is live on Sky Sports 2 today, kick-off 2pm

Surviving the drop

How has the promoted club fared in the last 10 seasons?

2002-03 N/A Rotherham had been denied promotion on entry criteria.

2003-04 Rotherham Relegated in their first season, have been in Championship ever since.

2004-05 Worcester Stayed up, finishing 9th, 8th, 11th and 10th until relegated in 2009-10.

2005-06 Bristol Stayed up, finishing 11th, 3rd and 9th until relegated in 2008-9; Championship ever since.

2006-07 Harlequins Stayed up, finishing 7th, 8th, 7th, then were champions last season.

2007-08 Leeds Relegated in first season back after going down in 2005-06.

2008-09 Northampton Stayed up, finishing 8th, 2nd, 4th and 4th.

2009-10 Leeds Stayed up, finishing 10th, but relegated again in 2010-11.

2010-11 Exeter Stayed up, finishing 8th in 2011 and 5th last season

2011-12 Worcester Stayed up after returned at first attempt, coming 10th.

Hugh Godwin

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own