In the trenches: At the front line, Welsh players and Sharks players scrap it out in their last Premiership meeting

By Alan Dymock

WITH LONDON Welsh losing their appeal against a five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, Tyson Keats, they remain five points behind nearest Aviva Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.

Quick response: Sales's Steve Diamond

With four games left to go, the relegation battle at the foot of the table is tighter than Scrooge McDuck wrapped in clingfilm, and with the last two matches of the season for Welsh coming against London Irish and Worcester Warriors there is little room for error as they come up behind Sharks.

Both parties know this, which is why the interaction immediately proceeding the league’s inquiry panel’s decision to ensure the deduction and £15,000 fine went ahead told of one team curling up while the other did the kicking.

On the day of the decision chief executive of London Welsh Tony Copsey said: “We are particularly disappointed for the players, who’ve given everything they can for the club, and ultimately it is they who have been punished for something completely beyond their control.”

This has been followed with reports on Wednesday that suggest Welsh have not completely ruled out going further and beseeching the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a ruling beyond that of the Premiership Rugby independent appeal panel.

More allegations have been thrown around from unlikely sources of late, too, with MP for Harrow West Gareth Thomas writing to the Office Of Fair Trading with a request for the Competition Commission to investigate Premiership Rugby’s funding structure, on the grounds that the body has “all the appearance of a cartel” and was biased against against newly promoted club.

This may give Copsey and his club a glimmer of hope, but in looking at the Premiership panel’s final decision Copsey’s words sound like those of a man who knows his side is against it and that he can only do one thing: try to rally the boys. With only five points difference between the side and Sale there is still a chance Welsh could win against the likes of Irish and Worcester and they will undoubtedly be fired up for their games against Bath and Northampton Saints.

Meaning business: Irish's Marland Yarde

Fostering an “us against them” attitude within Welsh is perhaps all that is left. Of course the Sharks know this, which is why hours after the final decision Steve Diamond was telling the BBC that he had thought the panel “would have increased” the deduction and that five points was lenient anyway. “It didn’t appear to be a very severe deterrent,” he said.

Sale have won five of their last eight Aviva Premiership matches, but with London Irish, Gloucester, Saints and Wasps coming up in their last four and only five points between them and Welsh it would help if they could dispirit them. London Irish, in the meantime, have been conspicuous by their silence.

Perhaps they will be pressed at a later point, but right now there is a sense that Sale want to hurt Welsh while they can. Behind the scenes the fear may be that they relax just that little bit. Irish will be hoping so, and they are heading for another tight encounter with the Sharks this Sunday.

Welsh, on the other hand, know exactly what is needed. They have to take their siege-mentality on the road to the Rec this Saturday.

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