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Welsh eyeing player additions

London Welsh are set to announce their first batch of new signings next Wednesday after reclaiming a place among the Aviva Premiership elite.

Exiles coach Justin Burnell has targeted squad strengthening by the addition of "12 to 15 players" following a 48-28 aggregate success against Championship play-off final opponents Bristol.

Welsh will return to English rugby's top flight next term after being relegated last season, and recruitment now tops the agenda.

"We will be making some of our player announcements on Wednesday of next week," London Welsh chief executive Mike Stevens said.

"We have been planning for it for the whole season, so we know who we are going to sign, what we are looking for off the field as well as on it.

"The most important thing I am going to do first of all is put that budget for the Championship in the bin and work on the Premiership budget.

"That (recruitment) is down to Justin. All I can do is ensure he has enough support from the board. We will sort that out in the next few days.

"Justin and the guys in the team have made such a great effort. The aim was to make the final (top) four, and you make the final four to make the final two.

"So to look at the scoreboard up there after the game to see we won both games and by 20 points overall against a very good Bristol side is incredible. The guys and Justin get all the credit for this."

Welsh will remain at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford next term, and Stevens added: "We are committed to Oxford for a three-year period, so we are Oxfordshire's rugby club.

"We are very proud to be London Welsh, but we have to turn Oxfordshire and the Kassam Stadium into a fortress for next season.

"We will let the guys go on holiday, our season starts again at the end of June and we will be playing Premiership rugby."

The Exiles' inaugural Premiership campaign ended in turmoil last year as they went down while still reeling from a five-point deduction handed out for fielding a player - scrum-half Tyson Keats - in 10 league games when he had not been properly registered. Welsh were also fined £15,000.

But the squad that was assembled for this season's Championship campaign vowed to make a mark - and they delivered in style.

"We set ourselves a goal on June 20, almost a year ago, to make the top four and then see what happens. We got our rewards," the Exiles' former Scotland international fly-half Gordon Ross said.

"Two or three times this year, we have been up against it, particularly against Leeds (in the play-offs) when we were 14 points down with 10 minutes to go, but this just shows the strength and the character we have in the squad.

"A huge amount of credit, of course, goes to Justin Burnell, who has created a fantastic culture in the club."

Ross, 36, kicked two penalties, a drop-goal and conversion as Welsh edged the second leg 21-20, while his tactical control on show in front of an 11,000 Memorial Stadium crowd ultimately helped keep Bristol at a safe distance.

"We didn't panic," he added. "We knew we were well under the cosh at times, but we backed ourselves and we had a lot of trust in ourselves and our defence.

"We targeted Bristol's defence, and against the blitz defence in these (wet) conditions, you don't try and play. You play field position and you force mistakes, which is what we did and that is why we won the game.

"We knew they would come out firing with the wind behind them down the hill, but our defence was strong.

"This is a great reward for all the hard work the boys have put in. You know, it has been almost 52 weeks now. We will enjoy a few weeks off then come back and get our heads down for it again."


From Belfast Telegraph