London Welsh Season Review 2022/23 and end of season awards

2022/23 marked the end of the ‘5 year plan’, the London Welsh road map put into place as part of project reset following the ejection of the club from the Championship in 2017. It has been a big 5 seasons (although it has actually taken 6 years with the interruption of the Covid 19 Pandemic). The 5 year plan envisaged 4 promotions in 5 season, a target that was completed after just 4 seasons, allowing 2022/23 to be a much needed consolidation season.

The London Welsh Board was acutely aware that a charge back up the leagues must be rooted in stability and common sense; to that end 2022/23 was always going to be a consolidation season. It is with immense pride that DoR Cai Griffiths and the Board, can say that the club has returned to level 5 (old National league 3) with the majority of the original Druids Amateur side squad doing the vast majority of the heavy lifting and without moving to a model where the Performance Squad has had to be paid to play. The huge community and ethos of the club has shown its strength and depth over that period and the London Welsh Careers HUB has also been instrumental.

With the above in mind, 2022/23 was a big stretch and the biggest step up for the squad over the past 5 seasons of promotion. The majority of competitor clubs at level 5 fully fund their squads in a semi professional manner and this showed on the pitch as the season progressed.

In stark contrast to the prior 4 seasons, the exiles started the campaign with a heavy defeat on the road at Maidenhead going down 56-17. This was Welsh’s biggest defeat in any competition for many years stretching back prior to project reset. If the coaching team were under any illusions as to the challenge presented at level 5, the opening weekend certainly confirmed the outlook. Although Welsh bounced back the following weekend in game week 2 to win 22-12 on the road at Royal Wootton Bassett, the first 5 rounds brought only 1 win to the table. Welsh played some excellent rugby and drew Havant and Wimbledon (who finished 1st and 2nd at the end of the season) very close in these early fixtures. That all said, Welsh sat 2nd from bottom of the table after 5 Rounds!

The biggest learning curve for the Exiles proved to be the intensity at level 5 and the step up in physicality, ultimately testing the strength in depth of what had been a relatively small squad over the past 5 seasons. Welsh suffered significant injuries in the first half of the season: career ending injuries to stalwarts Adan Cole and Tom Baldwin, the former fracturing his skull and eye socket in the Oxford Quins game, the same match that ended Jack Anderson’s season as he fractured his knee socket! Next up came the ending of Will Ponty’s playing days and with 6 matches gone in the season Welsh were reeling under a brutal succession of injuries. The first half of the season also gifted significant injuries to Ewan Gully, Jack Burnett, Ed Couzens and Lima Savaiinaea.

However, Welsh began to find their feet and a draw in Round 6 away to Sutton & Epsom proved a turning point as 2 bonus point wins followed in Rounds 7 and 8. It is fair to say that Welsh went from strength to strength as the season progressed and to finish 6th (a top half finish) in a consolidation year will have filled all at the club with great confidence. Credit to Cai Griffiths (DoR), Steve Shingler, Will Taylor and Paul Bessent for keeping the squad focused as they adjusted to level 5. The opening weekend loss to Maidenhead was avenged in the last game of the season at ODP with Welsh running out 20-10 winners; progress made.

The Druids 2nd XV were possibly the biggest victims of the savage injury hit season as players were called upon to progress through to 1st XV action, leaving the druids under strength. The Druids were holders of the Merit Premier League title from 2021/22 but the season was a long a hard one for Paul Bessents side. The combination of injuries and also trying provide a high enough competitive level for the Druids to compete at that also attracted and retained players with aspiration of 1st XV rugby, proved difficult with a fluctuating standard at Merit league level. Despite the challenges, the Druids ended the season with a final in the Merit Premier Cup and it is especially pleasing that no less than 7 Youth Academy players made the progression to senior 1st XV or 2nd XV rugby during the course of the season.

There were some stand out performers during the season across the performance squad both from established project reset regulars and some excellent new arrivals to the squad. Former Wales u20 international and Welsh Premiership (Swansea RFC and Esher RFC) man Ben Davies was a sensational addition to the squad, captaining the 1st XV on many occasions as deputy to James Buncle. Tololima Savaiinaea was another substantial addition to the squad as the combative Samoan made his impact on many opposition sides. The arrival of Dafydd Manley from Clifton RFC and Swansea University, Hywel Williams (Swansea University) , Ben Bodinham, Gareth Lewis (Esher) and Charlie Bramble all added substantially to the squad. The mid season arrivals of former Cardiff man Tom Ireland-Life and the returns to the club for Tom Hunt (spending 1st half of the season with Nat 2 Dorking) and Elis Staines all proved big moves. Tom Hunt incredibly ending the season as top try scorer with 10 tries, having only returned to the club at the end of January and playing only 8 league games! His second season in a row finishing top of the try scorers stakes.

There were excellent seasons again for flying back three player Sion Cowdy (who was joint top try scorer in the season he made his breakthrough in the Ireland National 7s team), experienced and always exceptional number 9 Adam Nixon and a marked impact in the front row from Sam Johnson who was an eye catcher for the London Welsh faithful.

The season also heralded the 4th addition to the 50 appearance club since project reset in 2017, as Elis Staines hit his 50th cap on returning to the club (Tom Baldwin, Andy Black and Cai Griffiths being the other 3). The Aussie star performer over the last 3 seasons Rohan Pixley, sits frustratingly on 49 appearances having missed the end of the season through injury (but he will of course return in 2023/24!).

The top points scorers stakes were a run away one man show, with Osian McAvoy in his second season at the club really finding his feet. Osian slotted 31 conversions, 13 penalties and crossed the white wash for 9 tries – finishing with a tally of 151 points for the season and a 72% kick success ratio. Osian also played in 21 or the 22 league games throughout the season. Osian also hit the landmark during the season of becoming the leading points scorer since project reset with a grand total of 287 points over 2 seasons.

Welsh scored a total of 596 points in league action, conceding 612 points. Interestingly, Welsh were winning 16 on their 22 league matches at half time! With a 1st half points difference of +91 and a second half difference of -107 across the season; plenty to concentrate on for the coaching team in finishing games off.

A huge thank you and standing ovation for Club Captain James Buncle: The veteran prop retires after a fantastic career that took in spells at Newcastle, London Scottish, CS Stages and finally London Welsh. James made 36 appearances for Welsh over two seasons and made his last appearnace in the home win against Maidenhead at the end of the season. James also has over 40 caps for Norway. We will of course see plenty of James as he continues to be part of the wider LWFAMILY, we are also assured that he may drag the boots out a few more times if injuries dictate in the coming season!

All told this was a very good season for the Exiles who successfully established themselves at level 5 and the consolidated the rapid progression of the last 5 seasons. It is testimony to the efforts put in this season and to the further progression made as a club in the fact that no less than 58 players graced the 1st XV during the season, a statistic that stands to the strength in depth established during the season and the transition that took place in 2022/23.

There were many stand out performers worthy of awards as the season came to a close. The annual awards night being held at Old Deer Park on Friday 12 May in a gala dinner hosted by Club Chairman Danny Griffiths and Club legend and honorary president John Taylor. Well done to all for their efforts this season and we look forward to the coming 2023/24 season with great anticipation and we enter phase 2 of project reset.

London Welsh Men’s Performance Squad Awards 2022/23 Season

  • London Welsh RFC Coaches Player of the Year 1st XV: ANDY BLACK
  • London Welsh RFC Coaches Player of the Year Druids 2nd XV: FINN COLLINS
  • London Welsh RFC Players Player of the Year 1st XV: OSIAN MCAVOY
  • London Welsh RFC Players Player of the Year Druids 2nd XV: LEWIS TUCKER
  • London Welsh RFC Players Plater of the Year OCCIES 3rd XV: TOM WRIGHT
  • London Welsh RFC Clubman of the Year: EWAN GULLY

London Welsh Women’s Team Awards 2022/23 Season

  • London Welsh WRFC Players Player of the Year: KATHRYN LEE
  • London Welsh WRFC Best Newcomer: RHIANNON ELLIS
  • London Welsh WRFC Most Improved Player: SERENA BAILEY
  • London Welsh WRFC Club Person of the Year: RHIANNON OWEN
  • London Welsh WRFC Coaches Player of the Year: ALICE GAYNER

The London Welsh RFC JOHN DARBYSHIRE & MARIA THOMPSON Award for contribution to the Spirit of the London Welsh Family: BRENDAN McWEENEY

London Welsh Supporters Club SUPPORTER OF THE YEAR: EIRA SOUTH




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