The takeover of London Irish was left hanging by a thread as the Rugby Football Union gave the American consortium one final opportunity to make good on its promises.
On Tuesday, a spirit of cautious optimism had emerged after owner Mick Crossan appeared to promise to fulfil the May payroll of around £500,00 with the RFU prepared to grant extra time for the takeover to be completed. But late in the day, Crossan seems to have had a change of heart and offered the players 50 per cent of their May salaries with a vague promise that the rest would be covered by the new American consortium.
That means that neither of the RFU’s two key conditions have been met of the staff being paid in full or documentation proving the consortium has the funds to back Irish for a season. An RFU spokesperson said: “The RFU Club Financial Viability Group met yesterday (Tuesday) evening, it noted the conditions set by the RFU had not been met and considered the application for an extension to the deadline. It was agreed to defer the decision for 24 hours to establish if the club is able to honour the commitment it has made to staff that they will be paid for the month of May. The group will meet again this (Wednesday) evening.”
That gives both the club and the consortium just a matter of hours to pay the players in full as well as providing details of their financing. Telegraph Sport understands that the RFU Club Financial Viability Group has yet to receive the majority of documents it had requested of the group, which is led by former sports agent Alfred ‘Chip’ Sloan.
Irish face suspension and exodus if wages are not paid
At an emergency meeting on Tuesday night the players were not asked to accept half their May salaries but were told not to submit breach of contract letters that would have entitled them to join other clubs. It is understood that they were told not to speak to their agents about the proposal and that if they refused the offer the club would go under without any salary being paid.
If the wages are not paid or the documentation fails to arrive then the RFU will suspend London Irish from the league structure. That means the Premiership would have lost a third club this season following the demise of Worcester Warriors and Wasps last 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”.
Even if the buyers meet this deadline then the can may only be kicked down the road for another week. Confidence in the commitment of the American buyers is low having missed multiple deadlines set by the Financial Viability Group. While players such as wing Henry Arundell and flanker Tom Pearson are already in high demand, 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.
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.
The consortium led by Sloan has so far declined to comment.