In January 2017, one of rugby’s longest running professional clubs played its last game. London Welsh had spiralled into a financial abyss, and liquidation was the outcome of an elongated spell of economic pressure, caused by years of yo-yoing between the top two flights of English rugby. Welsh’s inside centre that day was Seb Jewell.
Jewell began his professional career at Harlequins, despite only being picked up in his last year of school, after his father passed on a video of him playing to Harlequins’ academy director, Collin Osborne. A matter of months later, Jewell was partnering club teammate Danny Care in the halfbacks for England in an U20 game against Italy. “That game is something I look back on with pride. I got to represent my country and sing the national anthem, which was something I’d always dreamed of.”
Despite the dream start, Jewell’s time at Quins wasn’t altogether positive, with most of his three years at the London club being spent on loan at Esher. It was as a result of this that Jewell had to look elsewhere, and eventually Wasps came in for the youngster.
Frustratingly, Jewell’s move to Wasps coincided with the emergence of now international star Elliot Daly, and the back played just four times in his debut season, prompting another move – this time to London Welsh.
Jewell hit the ground running at Old Deer Park, laying claim to the 12 shirt, despite international class in Gavin Henson as competition.
But despite two seasons in the Aviva Premiership for London Welsh, times were turning sour for the Exiles, and after settling in the Championship, they succumbed to the financial pressure of professionalism. This resulted in Welsh’s subsequent liquidation.
“We were aware that London Welsh weren’t a club that were wealthy and that was always the case,” says Jewell when asked about Welsh’s financial situation.
“We never looked too much into it, preferring to just go about our job of playing, and we didn’t think too much of it.”
But as times grew tougher and the High Court refused requests for Welsh to stay afloat, Jewell found himself with the prospect of unemployment. “After the initial incident where we were told that Welsh were going into liquidation, we knew there was a possibility that it was going to happen. We were told that the club were doing everything they could to stay alive.”
Soon after, this prospect became reality, as London Welsh ceased to exist as a professional establishment in January 2017. The players had been given indications, but having to find new jobs was still a huge shock. Jewell was fairly lucky and was offered other playing contracts, but he rejected them. “I was fortunate enough to receive offers from a few other clubs, but at the time I didn’t find one that was a good fit for me.
“If I’m being honest, I’d had enough of rugby at that time. I’d gone through so much, and for me I felt I needed a break. I didn’t know whether it would be two weeks, a month of until the end of the season, but I knew that rugby was not for me at that moment.
Having played two seasons in the Premiership, as well as 58 games in the Championship, there are few more qualified than Jewell to comment on the state of English rugby, and the relentless debate regarding potential ring-fencing of the Aviva Premiership. “The standard of English rugby would only improve if the Premiership was ring-fenced. There just aren’t enough teams in the Championship to compete and the standard is far weaker, as we’ve seen with the last few promoted sides.
“It would be tough for the Championship sides, but frankly some player’s wages in the Championship are simply ridiculous and not sustainable.”
After his hiatus from rugby, Jewell decided to explore other ventures. “I now work as a media and talent manager at a company called ‘Insanity Group’. I represent all sorts of celebrities, and manage the jobs they get, the brands they work with and their day to day activity.”
Jewell tells me that he was lucky. He hadn’t planned for life after rugby, and this job came about by chance. “I had never thought properly about what would happen when my career finished, and I was fortunate to get this job.”
Now his career is over, does he look back on it with any regrets, I ask? “Not as such,” Jewell replies. “Everything that happened to me led to either a better long-term situation or helping me to learn about myself. I think I could’ve got a few more opportunities, but 90% of players do.
“I got to represent the Barbarians which was a huge honour, and I’ll never forget it, while I also kicked the winning points for Welsh’s first ever Premiership win. I got to play in so many big games against my idols, doing what I dreamt of doing, and there are far more great memories than bad ones.”
Jewell is rare, in that he retired young, yet of his own accord, and I find myself wondering towards the end of our interview whether he preferred playing rugby, or his new job as a talent manager. “I love what I do now, and look forward to going into work each week. It’s scary starting a new job, but it excites me at the same time. I’m so fortunate to have been given this opportunity.
“That said, I loved playing rugby. I got to have a lifestyle and do what thousands of people would love to do, and for that I’m so appreciative. It taught me invaluable life lessons, and I like to think I did alright.”