For Steven Shingler, it has been the ultimate bitter sweet season. In terms of results, things could hardly have gone much better.
The former Wales squad fly-half has helped Ealing Trailfinders win the English Championship, with the title secured via a thumping 60-10 victory over Richmond on the weekend. He has also played his part in London Welsh gaining yet another promotion, in his role as their attack coach. You can read more about their rise here.
Yet, alongside that double triumph, there has been the huge disappointment of Ealing being denied a place in the Gallagher Premiership. That bombshell dropped last month when the RFU declared the club had failed to meet the criteria for promotion as their Vallis Way ground doesn’t have the required 10,000 capacity. Shingler admits it was news that hit him hard personally.
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Ealing have appealed against the RFU decision and it remains to be seen what will happen on that front. But, as it stands, they are set to miss out on a place in England’s elite top flight.
“It’s such a strange one because you kind of build up for it all season,” Shingler said. “When the announcement came in March, it probably took me about a week or two to get over. I was personally quite affected by it. Players like myself came to the club to try and get us to the premiership.
“We have failed to do that, not because of the results on the field, but because we haven’t got a 10,000 capacity stadium. Yet there are plenty of games in the Premiership that don’t get that, so it just doesn’t make sense really. ”
There were still scenes of celebration, amid popping champagne corks, following the ten-try victory at home to Richmond, but there remains an underlying sense of sadness at being denied promotion.
“It has taken a bit of the shine off winning the title, absolutely,” admits Shingler. “It was nice to lift the trophy, but it was for nothing really. You can’t help but think what might have been. You just want to test yourself against the top boys. It’s ended up kind of a bitter sweet season. It could be much better. That is the downside. You lift the trophy and there’s a little bit of an empty feeling. ”
Ealing had proposed a year-three plan to bring their Vallis Way home up to a 10,000 capacity, arguing that could deliver sustainability whereas a groundshare would be loss-making. Now their appeal process is under way.
“They got after the game that we would try and get our rightful place in the Premiership. I think it’s up to the lawyers now. There is an appeal process underway. We literally don’t know what’s going to happen with the verdict. ”
Either way, Shingler will be on board again next season, having signed a one-year contract extension. He has been with Ealing since 2019, having had previous spells with the Scarlets, London Irish, Cardiff Blues and the French club Mont de Marsan.
There were two tours with Wales – to Japan in 2013 and South Africa in 2014 – without a cap coming his way, while there was also the saga of him being ruled ineligible for Scotland in 2012 due to having played for Wales U20s. You can read his recollections on that high-profile episode here.
So it’s been an eventful and, at times, frustrating career, with missing out on promotion being the latest bump in the road. But despite that setback, they are in a good place overall, having relished his time with the Trailfinders.
“I can remember our conversation three years ago when I was leaving the Blues,” he says. “I wasn’t really enjoying rugby at all. It’s an absolute contrast to now. I have really enjoyed my time in Ealing and we’ve picked up a trophy at the end of the season, so I can’t complain. To win a league is a hard, long slog and we have got the job done. ”
Shingler also has the satisfaction of having helped guide London Welsh to promotion to National League 3, with his coaching hat on.
“I absolutely love it down there. It’s relaxed, laid back and good fun. We win now of the time which makes it a little bit easier, ”he said.
“Over the years, I’ve picked up things working with people like Stephen Jones and Matt Sherratt, while I have a good relationship with Brad Mooar. So I have got a good network of coaches I can pick the brains of.
“There is a hell of an atmosphere at Old Deer Park. We get 1,500 people watching some games and that’s been in the sixth tier of English rugby. It’s a good club, I’m very fortunate to be involved with two good clubs. It’s a similar journey to the one Ealing has been on, starting from scratch, going up the leagues. ”
Shingler, the younger brother of Welsh International Aaron, is coaching as something they would like to focus on in the long term. But he has no intention of hanging up his boots just yet.
“I still feel pretty good and I have signed for another season,” they said, having played some 17 Premiership games this term.
“I have a very decent say in how we attack and I am enjoying my rugby. I just hope we can make it to the premiership during my time with the club. So we go again next season. ”
Before that, there will be a big event off the field, with his wife Kay expecting their first child in August.
“Life is good. We enjoy it up in London, ”said the Acton-based 30-year-old.
“I sometimes think I’m in the best place, looking at the problems in Welsh rugby. It’s pretty sad to see it really. Playing up in England, it’s not ideal when Wales lose, especially when they lose to Italy. You come in on Monday morning and they are all laughing. ”
But the real last laugh for everyone at the club will come if Ealing’s trail finds them ending up in the promised land of the premiership.