Sport

‘Like the Titanic’: Diamond dismayed as ruling terminates Worcester contracts

English rugby’s administrators have been accused of not doing enough to protect Worcester on the day the stricken club’s players and staff lost their jobs and their Premiership fate was all but sealed. The Warriors captain, Ted Hill, publicly took aim at Premiership Rugby’s chief executive while Steve Diamond, the director of rugby, likened his sinking club to the Titanic.

The liquidation of WRFC Players Ltd, following a demand for £6m in unpaid tax from HM Revenue and Customs, means the club are in no position to fulfil their remaining Premiership fixtures this season, with hopes of an 11th-hour rescue package also hanging by a thread. While a winding-up petition for the club’s parent company WRFC Trading Ltd has been temporarily suspended, the Rugby Football Union says it is now “unlikely” the Warriors will play another Premiership game in the 2022‑23 campaign.

With emotions understandably running high, Hill, a capped England international who came up through the Worcester academy, took issue with a PRL statement in which the chief executive, Simon Massie-Taylor, said “the thoughts of everyone” in the organisation were with the distressed Warriors players, staff and fans.

Hill replied on Twitter that “Your ‘thoughts’ aren’t what was needed”, reflecting the widespread anger in Worcester that stricter “fit and proper person” safeguards regarding prospective club owners might have prevented the whole sorry saga.

An emotional Diamond also made his disenchantment about the club’s recent stewardship clear on social media. “This is the darkest day for English rugby,” he said. “We thought we could turn the tanker around but it’s ended up like the Titanic, sadly. The ship has sunk, the captains are nowhere to be seen.”

After a high‑court judge took just 22 seconds to wind up WRFC Players Ltd, leaving all players and staff unemployed having already not been paid their September wages, the RFU made clear the probability of them playing another Premiership game this season was slim. “While the RFU continues to work with the administrators and potential buyers … this currently appears unlikely,” read a statement, predicting a final decision “in the coming days”. Automatic relegation is set to follow as a consequence of Worcester’s insolvency issues, although the club’s administrators have applied for this not to happen. The RFU indicated there would be a resolution “in due course”.

Efforts are still being made by the administrators, however, to try to ensure the land around Sixways is included in any deal that could potentially still be struck. Previously it had been feared that transactions aimed at separating the rugby business from the potentially valuable surrounding area might scupper that prospect.

There is also the issue of Worcester’s “P” shares which entitle the club to an annual portion of Premiership central revenue and funding. It is understood that PRL, with several other member clubs currently in debt, is considering buying back the all-important shares and would not be averse to shrinking the league back from 13 to 12 teams.

There are increasing echoes here of the desperate period in 1999 when Richmond and London Scottish were effectively forced to ‘merge’ with London Irish, with their fellow clubs keen to reduce the league from 14 teams to 12. PRL are declining to confirm whether Premiership regulations might allow Worcester’s “P” shares to be redistributed to PRL for free because the club has fallen into administration. If not, there is speculation that PRL might consider buying the “P” shares for around £9m to assist the other Premiership clubs.

With the RFU’s Championship funding currently a mere £200,000 per club per annum, either of those scenarios would reduce Worcester to second-class status. It has prompted Warriors’ players and supporters to launch a social media campaign using the slogan ‘Don’t take the P’, with Diamond making a pointed reference to the inaction of the game’s leading administrators – “The RFU/PRL band played in the back ground’ – in his Titanic-themed tweet.

The Worcester hooker Joe Batley also laid bare the human cost of the grim situation. “What I do know is that I can’t go another month without being paid,” he told the BBC. “It’s absolutely devastating.” A gutted Hill has also urged the authorities to make sure that no other club ever has to go through similar torment. “Something needs to change so that this doesn’t happen to any club again,” he said, describing it as “an unbelievably sad day for everyone in Worcester.”

Hill, Ollie Lawrence, Fergus Lee-Warner and Valeriy Morozov have already joined Bath on loan with a host of other players now being courted by other clubs. The Scotland and Lions wing Duhan Van der Merwe has re-signed for Edinburgh.

Sources within the club are calling for a full and independent review into exactly how Worcester’s plight came about but, for now, the RFU is attempting to salvage something from the wreckage by “liaising” with the administrators about potential funders which might permit the Worcester women’s team to continue in the Allianz Premier 15s this season even if the men’s team bow out of the Premiership.