London Welsh head coach Justin Burnell is confident that the Exiles will be a competitive force in next season’s Greene King IPA Championship.
The Exiles return to the Championship after one season in the Aviva Premiership and begin their quest to return to the top flight against Bedford Blues at Allianz Park on September 14, as part of the Greene King IPA Championship double headers.
New head coach Burnell is pleased with the squad at his disposal and believes that the Exiles, who will play their home Championship fixtures at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, will be very competitive.
The club have been able to keep hold of a number of its marquee players from last season’s Premiership campaign, and they’ve augmented that core with players with experience at the top end of the game and some younger emerging talent.
“We still have a few more gaps to fill, but it’s shaping up into a really exciting squad,” said Burnell. “The squad we’ve assembled is very capable of competing at the top of the table.
“Half of the squad have experience of the Premiership with London Welsh and that’s obviously going to bode well for us, while most of the players we’ve recruited have a variety of Premiership, RaboDirect PRO12 and European experience.
“There’s a really good vibe developing among the players, but what’s struck me most is the work ethic. There’s a real hunger and drive towards making London Welsh successful this year.
“The club has sampled the Aviva Premiership and the ambition is definitely there to go back up.”
The Welsh squad will also include two members of England’s historic IRB Junior World Championship winning team – Nathan Morris and Alec Hepburn – who join Exiles on loan from London Wasps.
“We’re very grateful to Dai Young and London Wasps. The Championship is a very good standard and there’s a definite benefit to playing in it for young emerging talent,” said Burnell.
Although this will be Burnell’s first experience of coaching in the Championship, he developed a good understanding of the league during his time at the Cardiff Blues, where he was joint head coach and forwards coach.
“We constantly looked at the Championship with a view to signing players, and we picked up Robin Copeland from Rotherham and Rob Lewis,” he said.
“So I’ve got a good knowledge of what to expect, but we couldn’t have a harder start than Bedford first up at Allianz Park.
“It’s a fantastic league and extremely competitive. Newcastle, considering the squad they had and with all their financial backing, didn’t have it all their way.”
On the coaching front, Burnell will be assisted next season by former Scotland fly half Gordon Ross, who will be starting his fifth season at London Welsh, while further support and continuity will come from strength and conditioning coaches Ryan Campbell and Lee Eldridge, head physio Chris Jenkins, club doctor Andrew Cormack, analyst Jon Shelborne and performance director Huw Wiltshire.
“Gordon is analytically, technically and tactically very driven. I’ve been extremely impressed by all the personnel at the club – they’re all extremely professional,” said Burnell.
“The on field and off field approach at London Welsh has been a massive breath of fresh air.”
London Welsh Squad 2013/14