NEWCASTLE Falcons will play in rugby’s Championship next season after London Welsh’s appeal against the RFU’s decision to deny them promotion was upheld yesterday.
The Falcons’ chief executive David Bell admitted in a club statement released last night that he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling of a three-man panel of independent barristers.
But while the RFU may yet take their case to the High Court, The Journal understands Newcastle are, on the grounds of the good of the game, unlikely to, and instead face relegation after finishing bottom of last season’s Aviva Premiership.
“We are extremely disappointed with the decision and the representations witnessed at the appeal hearing and we will leave our options open as to where we go from here,” said Bell.
“In this new era everyone at the club will be committed to delivering a successful future and a first-class experience at Kingston Park.
“After the disappointment of the decision coming out of the appeal hearing in London, we implore the region to get behind the club to prove what a wonderful and passionate region we are for rugby.” Though London Welsh won the Championship play-offs, the RFU initially refused them promotion on the grounds of having failed to meet the Professional Game Board’s minimum standards criteria.
Among various concerns, this chiefly centred on the Exiles’ proposal to host home games at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium, where it was said a perceived lack of ‘primacy of tenure’ meant they will be unable to stage matches whensoever the RFU or television companies decreed.
Alternative venues – such as Brentford’s Griffin Park – were deemed too far from the club’s base. However, during three hours of representations at a London hotel on Thursday, Welsh lawyers argued that promotion and relegation ought be settled on the pitch, and that the ‘primacy of tenure’ rule contravenes EU and UK competition law.
The RFU spent a further three hours making their counter-argument, before representatives for Bell and Falcons chairman Semore Kurdi – attending as an ‘interested party’ – were afforded 30 minutes to provide their input.
And convening for extended deliberations yesterday, QCs James Dingemans, Ian Mill and Tim Ward ruled in London Welsh’s favour, agreeing that competition law had been infringed by the RFU’s original judgement.
The decision may yet open a can of worms in rugby, but more pertinently it is a considerable blow for the Falcons.
Nonetheless, Bell remained upbeat last night, and has urged the region’s rugby supporters to get behind the club as it seeks an instant return to the top flight.
He said: “The last time the club was in a similar situation in 1996-97 we bounced straight back and won the Allied Dunbar Premiership trophy in 1997-98; it is our ambition to replicate similar success.
“We do not underestimate the competitiveness and challenges we face in the Championship, but under the tutelage of Dean Richards we will have one, and only one, goal – to win.
“Dean has been in this situation with Harlequins and he understands what it takes to navigate through the Championship, whilst putting together a team that will be successful with immediate effect on our return to the Aviva Premiership.
“Winning rugby will be a habit at the Falcons and we expect to bring attacking and exciting play for our fans to enjoy. Add some semi-finals, finals and trophies to the mix and it will be a season to remember.
“As a club rich in Premiership history and tradition we urge all of the region’s public, businesses and corporate bodies to get right behind the team and show the rest of rugby a message from this region.
“Many supporters have already committed for 2012-13, and for that we thank them.
“For all of those who are still wondering what you should do, commit to the Falcons, join the journey now and have the pride in being able to say ‘I was there at the new beginning’.”