Tom Vickers’ London Welsh preview: Saints must be wary of Exiles

WELSH THREAT - Gavin Henson
WELSH THREAT - Gavin Henson

Jim Mallinder this week fielded suggestions that London Welsh might fancy their chances of springing a surprise at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.

The Saints boss, as he always does, insisted that he was wary of the opposition and understood why they may just hope to do more than just a damage limitation job.

Such questions and such a scenario may have been unthinkable when the Premiership re-awoke from its summer slumber.

No sooner had London Welsh won their appeal against a Rugby Football Union ruling barring them from England’s top flight than they were being written off as relegation certainties.

But under the shrewd guidance of Lyn Jones, Welsh have steadily built a reputation, one that opposition teams no longer dismiss.

They have won three of their eight games this season, defying the odds to defeat Sale away as well as Exeter and Bath on their own turf, at the Kassam Stadium.

It’s been a remarkable rise to prominence for the Exiles, whose ascent to England’s top division saw Newcastle Falcons consigned to Championship rugby.

And such is the belief that Jones has instilled in his men that they won’t need dreams to make them believe they can win at Saints this weekend.

Had the game taken place on the first weekend of the season, they would have been given little hope. Not now.

Saints have lost their past three Premiership games, at the hands of London Irish, Saracens and Leicester and have lost five of their last seven matches in all competitions.

The slide was halted with a 30-20 LV= Cup win at Dragons last weekend, but, in the first half at least, it was a far from convincing performance.

Still, the belief should be back in the veins of the men in green, black and gold – and they should have enough to put Welsh to the sword.

But if they are not at the races, men of pedigree such as Gavin Henson and Sonny Parker will put Welsh noses in front.

And Mallinder may be left fielding more awkward questions come full-time.