“It’s just bleak, isn’t it.” - Ellis Genge on Worcester Warriors

Ellis Genge rejoined Bristol Bears from Premiership champions Leicester Tigers this summer

Sat in a suite in the Lansdown Stand at Bristol Bears’ Ashton Gate, it is a world away from the reality that Worcester Warriors are faced with right now.

On 16 August, Warriors were handed up a winding-up petition by HMRC for an unpaid tax bill. The figure on that unpaid tax is rumoured to be an eye-watering £6m, with administration seeming like a certainty five days removed from payday.

When asked about the situation, Genge is transparent in saying that he only “heard about this two days ago” after spending a period away from the game to recover from his exploits with England earlier in the summer. 

Even so, the former Leicester Tigers captain is of course sympathetic to the group, a group which includes several players he got to know in England camp. 

“It’s just bleak, isn’t it,” Genge said. “You’ve got Ted Hill, who was captain last year. He’s a young kid and it’s his club, he’s from Malvern. Ollie Lawrence, I think, is a Brummie, but he has been there since the Academy. How horrible, do you know what I mean?

“I was actually in a similar situation with Bristol before they got taken over by Steve [Lansdown]. We were in a WattBike session, and the administrator came in and started coming in and taking things away. I’ve been in in a money pit before at a club.

“I went on loan to Plymouth. They had a flooded gym. Money is an issue in rugby for all the leagues – every single league. Do I think it’s poorly run? I don’t know. I’m a player. I’ll stay away from those conversations.

“I really, really hope someone comes in and buys it. From an outsider’s perspective and a fan’s perspective, you see football and someone coming in and buying Newcastle and it’s just as easy as that – ‘let’s pump some money in and make them great’. I don’t know if that can happen in rugby.

“It’s happened a few times, but I don’t know how sustainable it is when you look at the margins in football compared to rugby. Jesus, if I had the dough, I’d buy it. But I haven’t. Hopefully they sort themselves out because it’s a good club, I think.”

Since Monday, Worcester’s future hasn’t looked any better. Perhaps the greatest piece of news is that former CEO, Jim O’Toole, is leading a consortium to try and take over the side in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, members of staff at the club have started posting a message of similarity on social media. Simply writing ‘together’ in the caption and a photo of the squad collectively, it is a note to all watching on that they will not so easily be broken up.

Solutions for if the worst should happen are unknown. Teams would receive one extra bye week but would have to miss out on a valuable home fixture which would create much needed revenue.

Add to that the Worcester senior and academy players that would lose out on their livelihoods as a result of the club folding. With over 80 players already struggling to find work in the Premiership as a result of the reduced salary cap for this season, it is a challenging situation at best.

There has been talk of a relaxation of the £5m salary cap, which would mean the 12 remaining Premiership sides would be able to recruit Warriors players outside what they have already spent.

This has proven to be an unpopular opinion amongst the Premiership board, meaning that any players’ task of potentially finding new work all the harder. In October 2020, Genge spoke openly about the challenges that players face. This included the demand to overhaul player contracts. 

Citing that contracts were outdated and didn’t provide enough protection, even having gone so far as to try and set up a new players’ union which would provide bespoke legal and financial advice to players.

Much of this stemmed from the way in which clubs restructured contracts in the wake of Covid-19, the reduction of salaries a standard way to claw back some of the losses.

With the potential for players facing the worst backlash for the misdoing of others, Genge hopes that a resolution can be found for those that call Sixways home right now.

“I just feel like everything is on everyone else’s terms for rugby players,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been really vulnerable in that situation. I’ve been told Bristol handles that Covid period really well, so maybe it’s different down here.

“As you’ve seen in recent years the contracts were reasonably paper thin – quite literally. They didn’t mean much. Hopefully those boys don’t get shafted as that would be absolutely gruesome.

“You’ve seen the constraints of the cap already with how many squad players have been left with now contracts. Quite a few of my friends have been left in that situation, which is horrible. You’ve got mid-level first-team players taking more than 50% pay cuts, going down levels.

“After mentioning that, you always get people saying ‘you get paid enough’, but you put your body through a lot, out yourself through a lot of risk, there’s all this health and safety.

“You so all the training and stuff, sacrifice everything for 10 years to be your best, and then imagine going to have to start a whole new career in the unknown. It’s a lot of sacrifice for a high-risk job, so at least you’d like to think you’d get looked after in that 10 years. It’s not the case.

“I’d like to think Worcester will help everyone out. I don’t want to see anyone kicked out on their arse.”