Hopes of rescuing Worcester Warriors from extinction were boosted after administrators seized control of the land surrounding Sixways but the club has been suspended for the rest of the Premiership season and relegated to the Championship.
Worcester will begin the 2023-24 campaign in the second tier if investment can be secured, unless they lodge a successful appeal. The decision has been made by the Rugby Football Union to support the prospect of a sale for Worcester and to protect the integrity of the Premiership, allowing the other 12 sides to “plan for the rest of the season”.
It is understood that Worcester’s results will be scrubbed from the league, though it is yet to be decided whether a new fixture list will be drawn up.
According to a statement released by the RFU on Thursday evening, the governing body’s financial viability group chose to concentrate on Worcester’s “long-term sustainable future”.
“As the club no longer has staff and players on contract and with many seeking alternative employment, the decision has been made to focus on how the club can be viable over the long term,” read the statement.
“This is a complex situation and any potential investors and management will require due diligence and approvals from the RFU and PRL [Premiership Rugby Limited]. A condition of any potential deal will include a requirement for the payment of all rugby creditors including any outstanding salaries owed to staff, players and coaches.
“The administrators are in discussions with several potential investors and it is expected they will also be planning for long term sustainability.”
Earlier on Thursday, amid fears that Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, Worcester’s co-owners, could have moved the goalposts with regard to a sale, it was announced that they had been replaced as directors of MQ Property Co Ltd. Stuart Maddison, a former partner of PwC, is now that company’s sole director.
In a statement from the joint administrators on Thursday lunchtime, just over 24 hours after players and staff lost their jobs when WRFC Players Ltd was liquidated, it was confirmed that Julie Palmer, Julian Pitts and Andrew Hook had been appointed as receivers over the shares together with any other fixed assets of Worcester Sports Limited.
“This is an important step in being able to deliver the full suite of assets comprising the trading entity, the stadium and the surrounding land to enable a purchaser to move forwards with a well-funded proposition to ensure the future success of professional rugby in Worcester,” read the statement. “We remain in active and constructive discussions with interested parties.”
'We can't run a rugby club without a pitch'
Palmer told Telegraph Sport that it remained her intention to deliver a “clean transaction” and that the presence of Maddison would aid this process, and has also confirmed she would be lodging an appeal against Worcester's relegation.
“We now have somebody completely independent in situ to say: ‘If we are delivering this deal, are they satisfied that it’s a proper value allocation to the land’,” she said.
“We don’t have people in there potentially who might say: ‘Actually, I’ve got some sort of ransom position for co-operating with this deal’.”
Jim O’Toole, the former Worcester chief executive who has assembled a consortium that is keen to buy Warriors, has continually reinforced the importance of the land surrounding Sixways. “The land has to be part of it. Simple as that,” O’Toole told BBC Hereford and Worcester last week.
“It's all about who owns the land, and whether the administrator, in doing their due diligence and forensic accounting, finds out what exactly happens to the assets and the liabilities. That is going to be the absolute key. We can't run a rugby club without a pitch, a back car park and the fanzone.”
Although Sixways will not host Premiership fixtures until 2024/25 at the earliest, the RFU suggested that University of Worcester Warriors Women could continue in the Allianz Premier 15s and that academy players would be offered playing opportunities.
“All parties continue to work together to provide the best possible outcome for Worcester Warriors over the long term,” said RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney. “This includes discussions with the administrator and potential funders, which may enable the University of Worcester Warriors women’s team to continue in the Allianz Premier 15s this season, and we are fully committed to ensuring local academy opportunities are provided for pathway players.”
Simon Massie-Taylor, the Premiership Rugby chief executive, said it had been vital to provide “certainty” to the 12 remaining top-flight sides. “Our priority is to find the best long-term solution for Worcester Warriors and we are encouraged by the progress the administrator has made in such a short period,” he added. “However what is clear is that it will take much more time to get the right solution in place for the club.
“Whilst we appreciate this decision will be disappointing to many people close to Warriors, we value the certainty this decision brings to the other Premiership clubs. We will now continue to work with the administrator, the RFU and other key stakeholders to find the best outcome.”
Meanwhile, the Rugby Players’ Association distributed a list of free agents to heads of recruitment in the Premiership. This will have featured a number of Worcester players hoping that clubs have space under the salary cap.
The onward destinations of two former Warriors were confirmed, with Joe Batley joining Bristol Bears and Renato Giammarioli joining Union Bordeaux Bègles.