London Welsh are planning to establish an academy in Oxford-shire next year as part of longer term plans which could include moving the entire professional operation up from the capital.
The Exiles are delighted with how their groundshare at the Kassam Stadium has progressed following their promotion to the Aviva Premiership this season.
Now they are keen to demonstrate their commitment to Oxford and the surrounding area by establishing more of a presence.
The club took the first step with the launch of a community programme in schools, which was attended by their Welsh international centre Gavin Henson.
“All the boys are enjoying being in Oxford,” said Henson. “It’s our home now and that’s part of what we’re doing with the community programme.
“We’re trying to make people more aware we are playing in Oxford. We want to get kids involved and enjoying rugby, which they seem to be, and try to increase our fan base. We have been playing some pretty good rugby so far.”
Another mandatory condition for Premiership clubs is to implement an academy system to nurture young talent and provide a pathway into the first team.
London Welsh have already begun planning and managing director John Taylor intends it to be based in Oxford, rather than their spiritual home in south west London.
“I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to us to show that we’re here for the long term,” he said.
“Each of the clubs is designated an area and ours down in London is swamped by Harlequins, who have been very successful.
“We see Oxford as our area, so it will be a question of feeder clubs and the best of that young talent will hopefully next year be coming into an elite squad of juniors that will form the basis of our academy.
“We’re already putting out feelers. Realistically there’s not a chance to identify and develop those players this year, but the identification process will start post-Christmas.”
For the moment, Welsh’s first team train in Richmond and only travel to Oxford for home games, but the bond between club and city could be considerably strengthened.
It is likely to depend on the club establishing themselves in the Premiership, but Taylor envisages a time when the professional side is based here full-time.
He said: “I’m not going to commit us to this, but it could be that the whole operation comes up here and we train up here as well.
“At the moment we still have our amateur sides playing at Old Deer Park in Richmond and that will continue for the foreseeable future.
“We will keep links going there but there is a certain sense in everything being based up here.”