The history of London Welsh

Oxford Mail: The London Welsh dragon will be seen at the Kassam Stadium this season The London Welsh dragon will be seen at the Kassam Stadium this season

LONDON Welsh begin a new chapter in their 122-year history when they play their home games at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium in the 2012-13 season.

The Aviva Premiership newboys started life in 1885 when a group of Welshmen founded a club for their fellow countrymen in exile.

Their early years saw disbanding and reformation, but from 1905 they were boosted by a ruling that no Welsh player living in London could be capped by Wales unless they played for the club.

The Exiles played at the Queen's Club, the County Ground in Leyton, the Memorial Ground, West Ham and Wandsworth’s Heathfield Ground - all before World War 1.

Welsh moved to Herne Hill after the war and relocated to their spiritual home of Old Deer Park, Richmond in 1957.

Their glory years came between 1966 and 1973 when legendary players included JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, John Taylor (now Welsh’s managing director), Mervyn Davies, Mike Roberts and Geoff Evans.

Such was their talent pool that seven London Welsh players went on the 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand and they regularly fielded 14 internationals.

Welsh reached the John Player Cup final in 1985 where they lost to Bath, but by the late 1980s the club were in decline.

When league rugby was introduced, they slid down to Division 5 South, but eventually fought their way back to English rugby’s second tier.

Welsh turned professional for the 2008-09 season, but were keen to retain the atmosphere of an amateur club with a social tradition to be cherished.

Finances were tough and Welsh went into administration in June 2009, but the club were bought back from the receivers.

A strong 2009-10 season saw them reach the Championship semi-finals where they lost to Bristol.

The following season, Welsh were beaten by Cornish Pirates at the same stage.

Former Ospreys supremo Lynn Jones joined as head coach in the summer of 2011 and guided Welsh to their third successive play-offs.

This time they ultimately triumphed on the field with a Championship final victory over the Pirates, completed with a second leg at the Kassam Stadium.

Welsh then had to appeal against an RFU ruling preventing them from gaining promotion for reasons including their lack of ‘primacy of tenure’ at the Kassam.

But they then triumphed off the field by winning the appeal, earning themselves the right to host Leicester in their opening Premiership fixture at the Kassam Stadium on September 2.

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