London Irish in last-ditch effort to extend RFU deadline by one week

London Irish in last-ditch effort to extend RFU deadline by one week
London Irish in last-ditch effort to extend RFU deadline by one week

London Irish staff have been given dramatic hope of the club’s survival with insiders confident that the Rugby Football Union will extend its deadline on the club’s fate by one week.

Telegraph Sport understands that players were informed that crucial documentation, showing evidence of funds, would be provided by the US consortium to the RFU, whose financial viability group was due to meet on Tuesday night in order to discuss the matter. The RFU on Tuesday night would not confirm, however, whether it has received the necessary documentation proving the club can be funded for the entire season from the prospective buyers.

Mick Crossan, the current owner of Irish, was said to be willing to foot this month’s payroll, which is due on Wednesday, after receiving assurances from the buyers. It is understood that any extension granted by the RFU would be contingent both on staff receiving wages for May and on documentation being provided. Last month, staff received their wages six days late with Crossan covering the £500,000 payroll.

Players at Irish, who have been exploring alternative options and receiving onward offers over recent weeks under the very real threat of Irish being suspended from the Premiership, were also reassured that the deal is “very close”. Yet while stars such as wing Henry Arundell and flanker Tom Pearson have already attracted interest from multiple clubs, the majority of the squad may struggle to find suitable contracts with most Premiership clubs having already finalised their recruitment for the 2023-24 season.

Nothing will be official until the financial viability group makes its recommendation to the RFU board for formal approval today, but it appears as though Irish have been granted a last-gasp reprieve. A source close to the squad said it was “the first time we’ve felt confident about the takeover in weeks”.

In order to prevent the 2023-24 season from being disrupted as the 2022-23 campaign was by both Worcester Warriors and Wasps going into administration, the RFU had asked for proof by Tuesday evening that the US consortium could fund the proposed takeover or that Crossan was willing to finance Irish for another year. Both the RFU and Premiership Rugby were savaged in a parliamentary inquiry into the demise of both Midlands clubs with RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney being accused of being “asleep on the job”.

The cautious optimism among Irish’s player group contrasts with a more cynical view held elsewhere of the American consortium, headed by former sports agent Alfred ‘Chip’ Sloan, which has dragged its feet at every turn, repeated broken promises and missing cut-offs. This was the reason that the RFU seemingly imposed a hard deadline of May 30, but with two Premiership clubs falling into the abyss already this season they have provided a degree of wiggle room. A source suggested that all parties will give the takeover every chance to succeed if meaningful progress can be demonstrated.

Yet the kick-the-can-down-the-road tactic always has an end point. The fate of London Irish will impact both the structure of the Premiership and the Championship in the short and medium term. Telegraph Sport understands Bristol Bears would take Irish’s place in the Champions Cup next season while the vision of chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor to establish a 10-team league would be brought forward by a year.

This would have a knock-on effect on the Championship, which has already rejected a one-year extension under its current terms from the RFU. The vision of a ‘Prem 2’ for the second tier, shared by powerbrokers within the RFU and Premiership Rugby, may need to be fast-tracked, although considerable work will need to be done to bring aboard many cynical Championship teams.

The uncertainty at Irish cast a shadow over the climax of the Premiership season. Even the afterglow of another domestic title could not rid the situation from the mind of Mark McCall, the director of rugby at Saracens and a former Exiles centre.

“It’s hard to be jubilant when these things are happening,” he said on Saturday. “I love London Irish and it would be awful if [their suspension] happens.”