Worcester Warriors face fresh controversy after unsanctioned sale of club

Worcester Warriors face fresh controversy after unsanctioned sales of club - PA/David Davies
Worcester Warriors face fresh controversy after unsanctioned sales of club - PA/David Davies

The future of Wasps and Worcester Warriors have been plunged into fresh doubt after the Rugby Football Union announced neither had met conditions imposed on their new ownership.

The RFU issued a “final deadline” of February 14 for the stricken clubs to comply hours after Worcester had been sold to buyers whose takeover it had previously refused to approve.

As well as repeating its reasons for vetoing Atlas Worcester Warriors Rugby Football Club Limited’s application for Warriors to re-join the rugby pyramid next season, the RFU revealed Wasps had failed to meet all the conditions imposed on a rescue deal it had provisionally sanctioned.

It said in a statement: “The RFU has informed the new owners of Wasps RFC, and the administrators of WRFC Trading Limited (the main operating entity of Worcester Warriors RFC) that they have until 14 February to conclude their negotiations and provide evidence that they have met the relevant conditions set. This is a significant extension to the original mid-December timeline to provide the clubs with the best possible chance of being in the Championship next year. However, a final deadline must be set to provide certainty to the Championship and National League clubs, players and other rugby stakeholders over the format of next season.

“In the case of Wasps, the RFU board conditionally approved the takeover, but not all the conditions set have yet been met, including the lodging of a bond and the signing of an agreement which commits the new club to the relevant conditions. Both would need to be done by the deadline for the approval to remain in place.

“The proposed buyers of Worcester Warriors had informed the RFU that they were not prepared to meet the conditions set, which included commitments not to dispose of land around Sixways Stadium without approval and were unable to satisfy the RFU of the sources and sufficiency of funding. The RFU was not able to confirm the suitability of the prospective owners. Therefore, the RFU board was unable to approve their application. If that position changes within the deadline, the RFU will be able to reconsider whether the application can be approved, but if not, then unfortunately the RFU decision will remain the same.”

The statement followed an announcement by Worcester’s administrators, Begbies Traynor, that it had exchanged contracts with Atlas, which is fronted by former Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole and backed by US investors.

Joint administrator Julie Palmer, who was legally-bound to strike the best deal for the club’s creditors even if that did not involve the return of rugby to Sixways, said: “Following a complex process, we are now able to progress the sale of Worcester Warriors and associated assets to Atlas Worcester Warriors Rugby Football Club Limited.

“This is an exclusive contractual position and Atlas are committed to completing this transaction as early as possible.

“We are delighted to see that there is a clear plan in place to deliver both rugby and many other exciting community-focused initiatives to Sixways befitting the fabulous facilities.”

Worcester and Sale secure Premier 15s places

By Fiona Tomas

Holly Thorpe of Sale Sharks evades the challenge from Keira Bevan of Bristol Bears - Getty Images/Ryan Hiscott
Holly Thorpe of Sale Sharks evades the challenge from Keira Bevan of Bristol Bears - Getty Images/Ryan Hiscott

The Premier 15s is expected to continue as a 10-team league next season after it was confirmed Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks have been formally invited to join the competition.

The Rugby Football Union was fiercely criticised when it announced last year that only eight teams had been successful in bidding for a place in its premier women’s league for the 2023/24 campaign, with Worcester and Sale both unsuccessful.

The omission of Sale sparked fears the Premier 15s would have no northern representation in the league going forwards after DMP Sharks – the only other northern team currently competing in the top flight – decided not to make a formal tender bid.

The RFU, however, insisted there was always “capacity” for 10 teams and has now offered conditional offers to Worcester and Sale to join the league next year. In a major boost to the geographical spread of the women's game, the body will also unveil a “package of support” to grow women's rugby up north.

In a statement, the RFU said: “The RFU and WP15 recognise the need to grow the game in the north of England and acknowledge the challenges faced in the region. The RFU has therefore developed a package of support to grow the game in the north, which coupled with a strategy for further investment will allow Sale Sharks to adequately address the feedback from the tender panel.”

Last month, Worcester announced it was officially splitting from the men’s team after securing long-term financial support with the Worcester-based business, Cube International.

The collapse of the men’s team last year forced the women’s team to begin operating as an independent entity and the RFU has since recognised the change in the club’s circumstances by honouring it with a place in the competition.

Reacting to the news, Josh Payne, the managing director of Warriors Women, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be invited to continue in the Allianz Premier 15s next season. This is the next major step in delivering our new vision for Warriors Women and will allow us to continue to strengthen our commitment to the community as we move forwards and begin to share our plans.”

Worcester director of rugby Jo Yapp added: “This has been the most challenging season for staff and players. The thought of Worcester not being in the premiership after so many years was just heartbreaking for the whole community, so it is great that we can now look forward with excitement and security.”

Leicester Tigers and Ealing Trailfinders were among the eight clubs to have been selected by the RFU to take part in the Premier 15s next season.