LONDON WELSH: Olly Barkley backs Exiles to surprise this season

Olly Barkley in action for London Welsh during his debut at Wasps on Sunday Picture: Martin John

Olly Barkley in action for London Welsh during his debut at Wasps on Sunday Picture: Martin John

First published in Rugby Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy Sports Editor. Call me on 01865 425457

LONDON Welsh are not just in the Aviva Premiership this season to make up the numbers.

That’s the view of former England fly half Olly Barkley, who made his debut for the Oxford-based club in Saturday’s 38-24 friendly defeat at Wasps.

Two seasons ago, the Exiles, who play their home matches at the Kassam Stadium, were relegated from the Premiership.

But Barkley, who won 23 caps for his country between 2001 and 2008, is aiming for a different outcome this time around.

“We have no intention of being involved in a relegation battle this season,” he said.

“Our aim is to be competitive in every game and make our mark in the league. With the strong squad we’ve got, I am confident we will do that.”

Barkley, 32, is one of more than 20 changes from the Welsh squad, which won the Greene King IPA Championship last season.

“The reason I joined was that I’d heard great things about Justin Burnell and Gordon Ross as coaches – and I’ve not been disappointed,” he said.

“I’ve been impressed by the pre-season, which has been very well structured, with four weeks of fitness followed concentration on the rugby side.”

Barkley made more than 150 Premiership appearances for Bath and Gloucester between 2001 and 2012.

“As one of those players who’ve played a lot of games, I hope the side will benefit from my experience,” said Barkley, who feels the Premiership has got stronger in the two years he has been playing in France and Wales.

“The standard’s getting better as every club gets more competitive.

“I would say that, athough the French league have two of the best teams in Europe, there’s much more strength in depth in the Premiership.”

Another of the star names to join the Exiles in the close season is New Zealand’s legendary scrum half Piri Weepu, who will partner Barkley in a talented half-back partnership.

“Piri’s not arrived in England yet due to problems with his visa, but I’m looking forward to teaming up with him,” he said.

“The whole team will benefit from the know-how he has gained while playing for the All Blacks.”

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