Worcester’s Gallagher Premiership future is hanging by a thread after the club was partially liquidated on what director of rugby Steve Diamond labelled the “darkest day for English rugby”.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is pursuing the Warriors, who are suspended from all competitions, for unpaid tax in the region of £6million.
Judge Nicholas Briggs instructed that WRFC Players Ltd, a subsidiary of WRFC Trading Ltd through which players and some staff are paid, be wound up.
A winding-up petition against WRFC Trading Ltd, which remains in administration, has been suspended.
The RFU held out some hope that a buyer could be found, although it is understood the club face automatic relegation to the Championship due to being placed in compulsory liquidation.
An application from the administrators to have the relegation cancelled will be assessed in due course.
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said in a statement: “This is a very sad day for rugby in England. Our thoughts are with all of the Worcester Warriors players, staff and supporters.
“The RFU will continue to speak to the administrators, and potential buyers, during the course of the next 24 hours to understand the possibility of a buyer taking over the club in time for the men’s team to participate in the Gallagher Premiership during season 2022-23.
“We are also liaising with the administrators in relation to discussions with potential funders, which may enable the University of Worcester Warriors women’s team to continue in the Allianz Premier 15s even if the men’s team cannot continue to participate this season.”
Earlier in the day Diamond had expressed his unhappiness and anger with the situation, writing on Twitter: “This is the darkest day for English rugby.
“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. The RFU/PRL band played in the back ground. There are a privileged few who have jobs.”
Club captain Ted Hill, Ollie Lawrence, Fergus Lee-Warner and Valeriy Morozov have already joined Bath on loan and other players will have their contracts terminated, along with members of staff.
Because they had not been paid for September, all players were able to leave on October 14, meaning that liquidation has simply brought their departure forward by nine days.
What an unbelievably sad day for everyone in Worcester. A club who meant so much to everyone has gone the direction none of us wanted it to. A place where I played my rugby from 14 years of age and met so many people who mean so much to me and my family… 1/6
— Ted Hill (@Ted_Hill26) October 5, 2022
Hill wrote on Twitter: “What an unbelievably sad day for everyone in Worcester.
“A club who meant so much to everyone has gone the direction none of us wanted it to. A place where I played my rugby from 14 years of age and met so many people who mean so much to me and my family.
“There’s been so many people to thank throughout my whole journey, starting off with Chim Gale and Nick Tisdale, who were my first coaches at Worcester and helped me not only to become the player I am but also the person I am. Also Alan Solomons, who gave me my first Premiership start and later went on to give me the amazing opportunity of captaining my home town club.
“To all those guys I am massively appreciative. Then to the current staff, who have helped guide this group of players through such a difficult time and have done it with such poise and elegance throughout all the highs and lows.
“To my team-mates, thank you for all the memories we have made together, they will be times that I will never forget.
“Then finally to the fans of Worcester, this is obviously not where any of us wanted this to end up, but the way you have supported us and the staff through this whole saga has been unbelievable and we’re forever grateful for that.
“There will be nothing written for the people who put us in this situation but to the governing bodies of rugby, something needs to change so that this doesn’t happen to any club again. Thank you Worcester for everything.”
Administrators Begbies Traynor are seeking a buyer for WRFC Trading Ltd and are talking to two consortiums, but any successful takeover will bring with it the urgent task of rebuilding the squad.
The Rugby Players Association (RPA) said it was extremely saddened by the situation and called for “lessons to be learnt”.
“We stand with all Worcester employees,” a statement read. “Our immediate thoughts are with all the players and staff who have lost their jobs today due to this terrible situation.
“We will continue to support our members in all ways that we can throughout this hugely challenging and difficult time, as we have done since it became clear that the club was in financial trouble.
“It is clear that lessons must be learnt from this situation and that players must be fully involved and consulted in any discussions regarding their futures and the future direction of the professional game.”
Simon Massie-Taylor, the chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: “The thoughts of everyone at Premiership Rugby are with the players, staff and fans of the Warriors on what is another distressing day for everyone involved with the club.
🏴🦁✨ British & Irish Lions and Scotland star winger @duhanvdmerwe is coming back to the capital on a long-term deal, subject to visa, medical and regulatory clearances.
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— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) October 5, 2022
“This is a sad day for rugby – the Warriors have been a huge part of the Premiership since Cecil Duckworth CBE led them to their first promotion in 2004.
“We will continue to work with the RFU, DCMS and the administrators, to see if a long-term solution can be found.”
Edinburgh later announced British and Irish Lions winger Duhan van der Merwe was to return to the club following his departure from Worcester.
Scotland international Van Der Merwe, who spent two seasons with the Warriors, told Edinburgh’s website: “I’d like to thank the Worcester fans and staff for all their support during this difficult period, it’s something I’ll never forget.
“Edinburgh is home and it’s a club I have a special connection with. Many of the players and staff are like family to me and I’m hugely excited to return and get started once again.”