Welsh face ineligible player charge
Welsh face ineligible player chargeSHARE
London Welsh's position in England's top-flight Premiership was at risk after the club revealed Tuesday they had been charged with fielding an ineligible player in "a number" of league games this season.
England's governing Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced a disciplinary hearing will take place in London on March 5, with the case centred on the registration of scrumhalf Tyson Keats.
The 31-year-old New Zealander joined the Exiles from now-defunct Italian club Aironi, with the Christchurch-born player having previously appeared for the Crusaders and Wellington-based Hurricanes.
Keats started last Saturday's Premiership game against Exeter and has been an important part of Welsh's debut top-flight campaign.
But on Tuesday the club announced they were facing disciplinary action, having brought the matter to the RFU's attention following an internal inquiry earlier this month.
London Welsh are currently three points above basement club Sale with six league games remaining.
Only the side at the bottom of the 12-team table come the end of the regular season will be relegated and London Welsh are now facing the prospect of a points deduction that could demote them even if they were to otherwise finish above Sale in the standings.
London Welsh added their former rugby manager, Mike Scott, was now the subject of a separate RFU disciplinary hearing relating to Keats's registration and has been charged by the RFU with "conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game". Scott's case will be heard at a later date.
The Exiles' added "no fault in this matter resides with the player (Keats)".
London Welsh chief executive Tony Copsey said: "This is obviously a serious matter which the club has not only brought to the attention of the RFU but is also working closely with the RFU to provide full cooperation whilst the case is being prepared and ultimately heard next week."
The three-man panel who will hear Welsh's case includes Premiership chief executive Mark McCafferty.
London Welsh provided a record seven players for the victorious British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand including captain John Dawes as well as Wales greats JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Mervyn Davies and John Taylor, now the club's managing director.
But, having been wary of full-time professionalism after rugby union became an 'open' game in the 1990s, London Welsh made their first appearance in the Premiership this season.
However, promotion was not confirmed until after last term following the club's appeal against a RFU ruling they'd contravened Premiership entry criteria in not having primacy of tenure at Oxford United football club's Kassam Stadium.
But an appeal saw the club argue successfully the criteria contravened European Union and domestic competition laws, and north-east side Newcastle were relegated having finished bottom of the Premiership.
Welsh are playing at the Kassam, some 50 miles away from their base in Richmond, south-west London, as their home ground of Old Deer Park does not satisfy Premiership regulations.