Sonny Parker and Cai Griffiths played for the Ospreys a combined 289 times during a period of great success for the Welsh region. The duo lifted a number of trophies during their time at the Liberty Stadium but now face an altogether different challenge as coaches at London Welsh.
London Welsh, one of rugby's grand old clubs, are best known for their accomplishments in the 1960s and 1970s when they won a number of Merit Table titles with teams that contained the likes of JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, John Dawes, Mervyn Davies and John Taylor. The club also made their presence felt on the world stage when they contributed a record seven players to the legendary 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
However, times are now a little different at Old Deer Park. In January the professional side ceased to exist after being expelled from the Championship by the RFU, following on from the team entering liquidation the previous month. Parker, who was on the coaching staff, describes it as a difficult time with a lot of the squad not knowing what they were going to do next.
Despite the loss of the professional side, the club and the London Welsh name live on. The amateur side, London Welsh Druids, were unaffected by the demise of the professional side whilst playing in Herts and Middlesex League 1. They will return next season as London Welsh with Parker and Griffiths joining the club as Director of Rugby and Player/Coach respectively.
The club have outlined a five-year plan to return to the National Leagues with another former Osprey in Will Taylor set to come on board as the side's strength and conditioning coach. Despite coming from professional rugby, Parker is looking forward to coaching an amateur squad. "You always want the enjoyment factor of it as half of them are here just to enjoy their rugby, which is the amateur side of it. It's just changing things here and there, I've spoken to the coaches of the teams from last year and I went to watch a couple of the games as well and saw how they interacted after the games, so I've done my little bit of research. I'm not going to change much, the game plan is going to be different, the way we prepare is going to be different, even the way we train is going to be different but hopefully it's all going to be enjoyable for these boys."
"The biggest thing is that you don't want to change the atmosphere of a team that is already there, you don't want to rip the heart out of it. The heart of the club is here already so I'm not going to change that at all. It's all about creating a different kind of rugby culture in terms of preparation and what you do during game day."
When it comes to Griffiths, Parker is pleased to have his old team-mate on board. "He's very passionate about the game and he's come from good pedigree having been with the Ospreys for a very long time and he's been at London Welsh, so he knows what the club is about. The season just gone he was up at Bury St Edmunds as a player/coach so he's still playing. He can be there on the pitch not just a coach but as a leader and someone who can lead at the forefront. His experience and knowledge of the game will be extremely valuable for especially the forward pack."
Griffiths played for the professional team during the 2013/14 season and is pleased to be back involved after a season long stint with National League 2 South side Bury St Edmunds. "Bury was great, I really enjoyed my time at Bury but moving forward I wanted to have a club that was a bit closer to London, where I'm based now. Sonny was involved with London Welsh and approached me one day to ask if I would consider a position with the club. I played here a couple of years ago which was great, hand on my heart one of my favourite years in rugby."
"It's great to have Sonny at the helm and hopefully that is a pull for players who are thinking of coming to London and want to play the game. London Welsh is world famous, so to be a part of it and be a part of the coaching set-up is something pretty special."
So with Parker and Griffiths leading the charge for London Welsh, the famous club are in good hands and will be looking to make the most of their fresh start as they look to build a sustainable and successful future for one of rugby's great institutions.