RFU Championship News


RFU Championship News


RFU Championship News Friday 25th May 2012

Our weekly round-up of news and comment from around the clubs, local and national media

Back in May 2009, the national media paid little or no attention to the Championship and until the last two or three weeks nothing much had changed.

Thus this column was launched on May 5th 2009 to address the issue and provide a regular source of news and comment.

BUT - in the last few weeks - the mainstream media have woken up to the quality and entertainment value of the Championship, although it may have taken controversial issues and a possible upset to the Status Quo to do it.

Whether this lasts is anyone’s guess, but the enthusiasm shown by the likes of Brendan Gallagher of the Telegraph suggests there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

And there is still the not  insignificant matter of next Wednesday’s 2nd Leg Final between London Welsh and Cornish Pirates at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium, which kicks off 7:45 and will be shown live on SKY TV – expect the press to be out in force again for this one.

AS the furore surrounding the rejection of London Welsh’s promotion credentials by the RFU has been intensively reported, I’ll give a brief summary and links to the main news stories, starting with the official statement from the RFU

Breaking News

Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, yesterday tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons in support of London Welsh’s bid for promotion to the Aviva Premiership, should the club win the Championship.

This was in response to the decision by the Rugby Football Union, announced on Wednesday (May 23), that the club had failed to meet the Minimum Standards Criteria (MSC).

Full Story And Transcript

RFU Preview


RFU Board of Directors Statement on London Welsh

Wednesday May 23, 2012
Issued by Will Chignell and Nicol McClelland

The Rugby Football Union's Board of Directors has considered the findings of the independent audit report requested by London Welsh, which determines a club's eligibility for promotion to the Aviva Premiership in line with the Minimum Standards Criteria (MSC).

The report, carried out by independent auditors, found that London Welsh has not met the MSC for the Aviva Premiership. The independent auditors identified various failures, including not having Primacy of Tenure at their nominated ground. This states that a club must demonstrate that they can host home fixtures at the time stipulated by Premiership Rugby and/or the host broadcaster.

The RFU Board ratified the findings and agreed, should London Welsh win the RFU Championship final following the second leg on May 30, they would not be eligible for promotion and Newcastle Falcons would remain in the Aviva Premiership.

Cornish Pirates did not choose to have an independent audit of the Mennaye Field and so do not fulfil the criteria for promotion should they win the final. As a result, there will be no promotion from the RFU Championship this season.

London Welsh have the right to appeal and would be required to do so within 14 days of this decision.

What The Papers Say

Brendan Gallagher
The Telegraph 24th May

How dare Premiership Rugby criticise London Welsh and deny them right to play in top flight. It is gross hypocrisy
Right, time for a few painful home truths about clubs I otherwise admire and love but who now stand accused of gross hypocrisy over the London Welsh promotion issue.

Gavin Mairs and Brendan Gallagher
24th May

London Welsh are optimistic they can persuade the Rugby Football Union’s appeal panel to overturn what they described as the “inequitable, unreasonable and unfair” decision by the governing body’s board to deny the championship club the chance to win promotion to the Aviva Premiership.

Brendan Gallagher
23rd May
London Welsh – angry but hugely motivated by the RFU for denying them the chance of Premiership rugby just hours before kick-off – replied in a manner that will be applauded by all sportsmen at the Mennaye Stadium last night with a memorable win against the odds.

The Guardian
London Welsh play-off at Cornish Pirates has Newcastle Falcons on edge
London Welsh denied chance of promotion to the Premiership

The Mail www.dailymail.co.uk
The Express www.express.co.uk

Whilst all this has been going on there has been no let-up in activity at the other clubs.




Bedford Blues Bedford Blues have announced two further signings, Darren Fearn and Mark Atkinson.

With two props leaving the club at the conclusion of the 2011/12 season, the Blues have moved quickly to capture Newcastle front row star Darren Fearn who has been with the Falcons since 2010.

Fearn, 23, was born and raised in Yorkshire and started his playing career with local side Scarborough before moving to Newcastle to study at Northumbria University. After playing for Blaydon in the 2008/9 season and picking up an England Student cap, Fearn was awarded a full time deal with the Falcons which coincided with his studies.

At six foot three inches tall and tipping the scales at the 20 stone mark, Fearn is certain to add plenty of beef to the Bedford front row next term.

Also signing for Bedford this week is impressive Esher fly half Mark Atkinson who has quite the rugby CV despite being just 22 years old.

Atkinson, who can also play at inside centre, started his career with Sale before turning out for Sedgley Park, Rosslyn Park and Wasps prior to joining Esher last season where he put in a scintillating first half performance against Bedford in September only to go off injured at the interval.

Having picked up caps for England Under 18s and Under 20s, Atkinson will provide plenty of competition for the much sought after Bedford Blues number ten jersey.

Commenting on the signing, Blues Director of Rugby Mike Rayer said: “It has been a busy couple of weeks for us at Goldington Road but we are delighted to be able to welcome Darren and Mark to the club.

“Darren is a good, young prop who has Premiership and European experience and will add plenty of momentum to the Blues scrum. Anyone who was at Moseley Road last season will know what Mark can do given the tiniest amount of space and I look forward to seeing him in action in a Blues shirt soon.”

Mark Kohler, Ian Vass and Dan Seal have all signed new deals which means  that 22 members of last season’s squad have signed up for another term at Goldington Road whilst four new squad members – Tom Armes, Ben Gulliver and the afore mentioned Mark Atkinson and Darren Fearn – have joined


Cornish Pirates


Cornish Pirates

The Cornish Pirates have announced the signing of six new squad, centres Alaifatu "Junior" Fatialofa and Alex Cheeseman, fly-half Kieran Hallett, prop Ben Prescott, and back row forwards Adam Clayton and Gary Johnson.

Fatialofa will be returning for his second spell at the Mennaye Field having previously joined the club midway through their debut season at Level Two in January 2004.

 The former 'Pirate' joins from Bristol and will add vast experience to a young backline next season, enhancing both the attacking and defensive components of the Pirates play

Cheeseman, 23, has moved to Cornwall from London Wasps after spending this season dual-registered with Henley Hawks in the National 2 South. He made three LV= Cup appearances for the Premiership side and has represented Oxford University in three Varsity matches at Twickenham.

Kieran Hallett ia a proven goal kicker, the former Ireland U21 international has also represented Ulster, Cambridge and Bedford Blues but spent last season at Meadow Lane with Nottingham, notching 143 points with the boot during Phase One of the Championship.

In the pack the Pirates have bolstered the front row with the capture of experienced prop Ben Prescott, also from Nottingham.

The 33 year-old Libyan-born tighthead played twice for the Green & Whites against the Cornish side this season and has also spent time at Leinster, Glasgow Warriors, Rotherham Titans and Northampton Saints.

Flanker Adam Clayton has signed a 12-month deal at the Mennaye Field after spending time with the Pirates rehabilitating after a serious knee injury which almost ended his career.

The 24 year-old is a product of the Bath Rugby Academy and gained Championship experience with Birmingham & Solihull.

Completing this batch of signings is Gary Johnson who can play at lock and in the back row.

The 28-year-old from Kent began his senior career at London Irish where he made 55 appearances for the club including nine in Europe and a runners-up medal in the 2009 Premiership Final at Twickenham after the Exiles lost 10-9 to Leicester Tigers.

Johnson, who has represented England at Under-18 level, joins the Pirates from London Welsh.


Speaking to the Cornishman, Cornish Pirates assistant coach Harvey Biljon said: "I'm excited about the recruitment of these guys.
Full Story www.thisiscornwall.co.uk



Doncaster Knights

Knights’ boss Brett Davey has signed his third centre for the 2012/13 Championship season.

Leicester Tigers’ Dante Mama has put pen to paper on a deal and will link-up with former team-mate Will Simpson at Castle Park www.thestar.co.uk

The 22-year-old has followed a similar path in the English game as Simpson, graduating through the Loughborough Students system, whilst playing for Tigers’ development side.

Will Simpson aAn inside centre by trade, Simpson has followed a similar route as Fred Burdon and will hope to emulate his success with Knights next season www.thestar.co.uk

Leeds Carnegie

Leeds Carnegie

Leeds Carnegie have today confirmed their latest new recruit for the 2012-13 season with the signing of prop Ben Hooper from Yorkshire rivals Rotherham Titans on a one year contract.

The former Leeds Met student is the younger brother of Leeds Carnegie legend Stuart Hooper, who was part of the Powergen Cup winning team of 2005 and remained loyal to the club following relegation the following year to lead Leeds back into the Premiership as skipper.


Leeds kicked off their recruitment campaign for the 2012-13 Championship season with the capture of four players on two year contracts from Championship finalists Cornish Pirates in David Doherty, Mike Myerscough, James Doherty and Matt Smith.

The quartet includes three players with connections to the club who are returning home to Yorkshire to continue their rugby.

David Doherty, 25, was the youngest ever player to make his debut in the Premiership when he emerged from the Leeds Carnegie Academy ranks in 2004. Since then he has had spells at London Wasps, Sale, Jersey and the Pirates but comes home on a two year contract having scored 14 tries in 24 games this season to add to the 18 he scored the year before at Jersey.

Second row Matt Smith, 22, is from Royston, near Barnsley, and played for Sandal in his formative years whilst attending Silcoates School. He represented UWIC in three Finals at Twickenham as well as being selected for England Students before joining the Pirates.

The third player with a Yorkshire connection is scrum half James Doherty. The 24-year-old scrum half previously played at Wharfedale and attended the University of Leeds. He has also represented Lancashire and England Counties and has played at the Pirates for the past two seasons.

Finally, the fourth player to make the move to Headingley Carnegie is Cornishman Mike Myerscough. He first emerged from the Bath Academy before a spell at Cornish All Blacks brought him to the attention of the Pirates. The 25-year-old second row is originally from Bude and has played for England up to Under 18 level. His time at the Pirates has been a frustrating one due to injuries however this season he has put those set backs behind him and made 16 appearances so far for the Championship finalists.

Commenting on the announcement Head Coach Diccon Edwards said,
“We are delighted to be able to secure four players of the calibre of these guys for next season. We have always maintained that our Academy is at the heart of our club so to bring three players back home to play for Leeds Carnegie is a real boost to our squad.

David Doherty is one of the most exciting players in the Championship, as Leeds fans got to see in our final game of the season as he set up a spectacular try in the second half, whilst James Doherty will give us great competition for the number nine shirt alongside Craig Hampson.

“In the forwards, Matt Smith is a player that we were disappointed to lose from our Academy at the time and someone who is passionate about Leeds Carnegie being successful next season.

Mike Myerscough has a tremendous pedigree having learnt his trade at Bath and will be a great addition to our forward pack. All four have been part of a successful team this season with the Pirates and had the chance to say goodbye to their fans at the Pirates in last night’s game. We wish them well for the second leg and look forward to welcoming them to Leeds Carnegie this summer,” added Edwards


Leeds have also secured a number of young stars as they look towards moving the club forward in the new campaign.

Forward Richard Beck, 22, leads the way with a new two year contract having made 25 appearances this season including ten in the starting line up.

Hookers Scott Freer, 23, and Harry Hannan, 20, have both agreed new one year contract extensions having established themselves in the first team squad this season likewise prop Mark Tampin, 20, who made his debut in the British & Irish Cup last season has been retained for next season. Scrum half Craig Hampson, 21, who finished the season as first choice number nine, has also agreed a new one year deal.

Centre Joe Barker, 20, who has been with Leeds since his was 13, has signed a new two year contract having joined Leeds from QEGS where is father is the Director of Sport and Master in charge of rugby. He made 15 appearances at the start of this season but a hernia operation ruled him out of the latter half of the season.

Finally prop Mo Mustafa has agreed a contract extension for next season having made 14 appearances this season. Mustafa only joined Leeds last year on a short term contract but made such an impression that he became a regular first team member throughout the course of the season.

Commenting on the new deals Head Coach Diccon Edwards said, “It was important for us to secure our best young talent for next season before we began our recruitment process for next season. Richard, Scott, Craig, Joe and Mo will have gained significantly from the amount of game time they have had this season whilst Harry has worked hard to recover from injury in mid-season after impressing at both hooker and in the back row and Mark is a developing young prop.


London Welsh

London Welsh

London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips has insisted the club will not abandon its Richmond roots should the club get to the Premiership, writes Stuart Amos in the Richmond Twickenham Times

 “We would love to play Premiership rugby at Old Deer Park, but, unfortunately, the rules of the game suggest that cannot be done,” he said.

“Old Deer Park will always be our spiritual home and will continue to be our base for training, for all our age group and community rugby.

Full Story www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk

London Welsh have made special travel arrangements for the 2nd leg of the RFU Championship Final

The club will be offering return coach transport from Old Deer Park for £2.50 return trip, returning after the game to ODP.

Ticket prices are as follows:
Adult Grandstand £20.00 - Free seating.
Concessions £12.50 - Free seating




Lock, Liam Mather is coming to Moseley confident he can step up a level and fill the void left in the Red and Black pack.

Mose have already lost two second-rows this summer, with Dan Sanderson and Paul Spivey moving to rival Championship clubs.

That leaves 21-year-old Mather, who last week finalised a move from Coventry, as the only confirmed lock in Kevin Maggs's squad.

Full Story www.birminghampost.net

Nottingham Rugby


Nottingham Rugby

Nottingham’s Director of Rugby, Glenn Delaney, will be leaving the club to take up the position of Forwards Coach at Premiership side London Irish.

Delaney, a former player at Irish, has been with the Green and Whites as Director of Rugby for seven years, racking up over 200 games in charge. He first came to Nottingham as a player, making his debut against Otley in 1997, before the spell at Irish. He returned to Nottingham as a coach in 2004, before taking over as Director of Rugby in the 2005/06 season.

On leaving Nottingham Rugby, Delaney commented:
“It’s with a heavy heart that I am saying goodbye to Nottingham Rugby, but the opportunity with London Irish is a fantastic one.

I have a huge affinity with Nottingham, both as a player, but also as coach and director of rugby and the last seven years have undoubtedly been the highlight of my rugby career to date.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, but the people will be what I remember most – the players, coaches, staff, board members, fans and of course my only captain – Craig Hammond.

We’ve had a great group of players here for sometime – the likes of Duffey, Rousey, Jacko and Hamo have been with me since I arrived and together we’ve seen the club progress from a part-time outfit training two evenings a week, to a professional sports club with great prospects for the future.”

Delaney’s departure date is yet to be confirmed as he is still contracted to Nottingham, but both he and Irish have agreed to a proper handover of coaching duties.

Nottingham Rugby Chairman Alistair Bow has confirmed the club is already looking for Delaney’s replacement, but won’t be rushed into a decision. Instead a small selection panel will draw up a shortlist of potential candidates.

“We’d like to thank Glenn for his time with Nottingham Rugby during which he has achieved an awful lot with this club. But, we need to look to the future, it’s an exciting period for us and we need to ensure we get the right person to continue the club’s development,” said Bow.

In the meantime, former Director of Rugby and current Chief Executive, Simon Beatham will take over rugby matters. He will be assisted by club coaches Ben Johnston and Neil Fowkes. The squad get back together on Monday 28th May when pre-season training starts.


Delayney’s departure follows news that centre Juan Pablo Socino from the final year of his contract, with the Argentinean agreeing to pay compensation to secure his release from the Green and Whites.

Nottingham Director of Rugby Glenn Delaney said: “It was disappointing to learn that Juan did not want to return to the club and honour the final year of his two-year contract with us.

“As a club we comply with every contract that we make with a player and we expect players to do the same in return. Juan indicated that he wouldn’t, so we have come to a compensation agreement to release him early.

“Juan has gone back home to spend more time with family. We thank him for everything that he did for us last season, and we wish him the best for the future.


Plymouth Albion


Plymouth Albion

Albion centre Keni Fisilau marks his 11 years at Albion with a testimonial match at Brickfields tonight between a South Sea Islanders XV and a South West Select XV

The South Sea Islanders XV will feature Northampton Saints  international prop Soane Tonga'uiha alongside  a number of international players, while the South West Select XV will include a number of former Albion favourites who have played with Fisilau.

Keni Fisilau who has just turned 36 joined Albion in 2001 when they were in National League Division Two.

The long-serving centre, Albion's all-time record league appearance holder, has just signed a new 12 month contract with the Championship side.

According to Keni "I'm very pleased to have the chance to keep playing for Plymouth.


Fisilau arrived at Albion, then in National League Division Two, in the summer of 2001 alongside fellow Tongan Sikuti Vunipola.

Few people would have imagined then that Fisilau would still be at the club 11 years later and be Albion's all-time record league appearance holder.

Speaking to the Herald Fisilau said, "I think the last 11 years have gone fast," "I was really welcomed when I first came here from supporters and staff".

However, he admitted he did considering moving on but opted to stay after a heart-to-heart with then chairman of rugby Graham Dawe.

"That first season was really hard," said Fisilau, who did not have his family around for the first three months.

"I only played six first team games that season. The rest of the time I was playing for the Warriors.

He added: "I was thinking about moving somewhere else to play, but I ended up staying and finding a place in the side.

Full Story www.thisisplymouth.co.uk

Rotherham Titans

Rotherham Titans

Titans have announced two further additions to their playing squad.

Both players are backs and both arrive at Clifton Lane with a reputation of being highly rated and are expected to be stand-out players in the Championship next term.

Eamonn Sheridan, a big, powerful centre with a turn of pace joins the Clifton Lane outfit from Leinster. At 6’ 4” and 17 stone he his certain to add physicality to the Titans back line.

The 23 year-old has a fine pedigree, having made several appearances for the Leinster ‘A’ side and achieved 20 caps with Ireland U20’s, which included appearances against such sides as Italy, France, Scotland, England, Argentina, New Zealand, Wales, Tonga and Samoa.

Sheridan also has experience of competing in the Magners league with Leinster, alongside his caps for Leinster U18’s and U20’s and 8 caps for Ireland Under-18 Club Youths.

Titans head coach Andre Bester commented on his new acquisition, “I’m really pleased we have managed to secure Eamonn for next season. I wanted to take him last year but Leinster did not want to release him and then he suffered an injury with a broken leg. He’s fine now and I expect him to be a stand-out player for us in the Championship.”

Joining Sheridan at Clifton Lane in the summer will be full back/winger Ed Styles. Styles also arrives with an impressive pedigree having played Premiership rugby with Sale Sharks. The 22 year-old Stockport-born utility back is expected to be used primarily by Andre Bester in the number 15 jersey.

Styles is no stranger to Championship rugby, having had a spell at Billesley Common with Moseley.

Styles is highly thought of and his quick feet and exciting running game are reminiscent of Errie Claassens, according to Titans coach Andre Bester.

Bester remarked, “I’m thrilled to have Ed join us, he’s another player that I tried to get last year, but an injury and his commitment to his studies meant he was not available. I’m expecting huge things from Ed and he’s going to be one to watch next season.”