Wasps and Worcester Warriors ‘leaves resounding sense of sadness’ about professional English club rugby

In October both Wasps and Worcester Warriors have gone into administration
©David Howlett

In just under two weeks, the face of professional English club rugby has changed beyond nearly all recognition. 

Both Worcester Warriors and Wasps have entered administration, the two clubs not only automatically relegated to the Championship and every employee made redundant.

Through it all, it is difficult to know exactly what to say or think. You feel for all those affected by the plight the two teams are going through but are also left with this resounding sense of sadness for what this means for the game as a whole and anger that things even managed to get to this stage.

The storm surrounding each of Wasps and Warriors began to gather in the summer, reports on unpaid tax and significant debt coming to the fore. In the days that have followed there has been much said by many, the downfall of two of the country’s top-flight sides resulting in the Department for Culture, Media & Sport feeling the need to launch an inquiry.

Former Wasps captain James Haskell has warned that more clubs could follow his former employers while even suggesting that club rugby needs to move to a franchise model. Wasps' legendary captain Lawrence Dallaglio posted a 19-word social media post, explaining his “heartbreak” at the club’s demise.

Club captain Joe Launchbury thanked the team for letting him live his dream and saying, “I’m not sure I will ever get over the news today”, signalling exactly how the mood is among the playing group, the club’s administrator Andrew Sheridan describing it as “pretty tough” to break the news to the playing group who were “bawling their eyes out”.

Already there are rumours that another Gallagher Premiership club could be facing a similar fate as professional club rugby continues to reel. One of the many issues is that solutions are hard to come by.

Joe Launchbury said that he is 'not sure he will ever get over' how his time with Wasps ended
©David Howlett

Central contracts have been one thing that has been brought up as a solution, the suggestion that the £25,000 match fees England players receive could be used to tie players to their home union.

On Tuesday afternoon, England and Saracens hooker Jamie George said that he believes any overhaul of professional club rugby in England must have the players involved at its very heart.

“I think the players need to be at the forefront of this,” he said. “Why would you not have them in the room? I think that’s absolutely vital. I’d love to be the room. I’ve got some ideas.

“I think I speak for a lot of players in that they want to play for their clubs. That’s why players need a voice in this conversation. 

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“It would be very easy to look at this commercially and say, ‘Well, let’s just make England as big as we can and take away from the club game’. For me, that isn’t the answer and it’s not what players want.

“So, let’s go out to all the clubs and find out what the players want. Let’s get a collective idea and take it to the RFU. That’s where the RPA [Rugby Players Association] come in.

“At the minute, they aren’t a signatory for the PGA [Professional Game Agreement] and that’s something that’s vitally important to get. I think we will.

“We need innovation. Rugby has been very similar for a long time and, as we can see, it’s not really working. I understand the value in potentially compressing the league. Less games, make the games bigger, allow for the internationals to play more for their club.”

Whatever the solution may be, it is abundantly clear that the fixes will have to be wide-ranging and extensive. Through all of this process, there has seemingly been a disconnect between the RFU and Premiership, the governing bodies statements coming some 24 hours after the top-flight had taken action.

Josh Bassett had called Wasps home since 2013
©David Howlett

As for the immediate future of the two teams, the main concern of their administrators at the moment is to find investors. Wasps did recently have a party interested in purchasing the club and the business, however due to problems over retaining the P share, they pulled out.

On Wednesday, Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter weighed in on the debate on his weekly press call. When asked whether he felt that the action that the Premiership and RFU had taken, the 51-year-old backing those at the head of the game in their decision making.

"People have got to remember when you say is it right the stance the RFU are taking or PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited), I think the one bit that surprises me that hasn’t been reported is what is the alternative?

“Because what is the alternative? The alternative is that a business, a rugby club in the Premiership, can go into administration, can organise a pre-pack with somebody so they don’t lose their position in the Premiership, they don’t lose their P shares and they wipe their debts.

“Are we saying that is what we should have done because that seems to be suggested because if that is the truth, then why doesn’t every club in the Premiership that has got debts organise a pre-pack with an administrator, go into administration, keep their P shares, keep everything that is going to be of value, and wipe the debts of everyone they owe money to?

“Because if you do it for one club, you are saying that is the right thing to do. That is what surprises me about this argument around the P-share allocation.”

Both clubs are now in a waiting game to see what the future holds
©David Howlett

Rugby has never been at a crossroads like this. Regardless of this current situation, we have already seen dwindling attendances at games, reports on the sport falling further and further back on the news bulletins, while other sports have gone stratospheric in their coverage, commercial viability and viewership.

Case and point is very much Formula 1, which has seen tremendous growth since the docudrama Formula 1: Drive to Survive was launched alongside streaming service, Netflix. Meanwhile, the Premier League has gone from strength to strength, the competition making millions upon millions, both sports leaving rugby in their wake.

As if that wasn’t already a wakeup call, we now find ourselves reduced by two teams in the Premiership and stood with plenty of decisions to be made about the future of a sport that has floundered while others thrive.

All employees of the teams are now looking for new work and players are now going into a market that has been flooded as a result of salary cap changes. Some will of course find themselves new homes, but what of the players that aren’t internationals or even the Academy players just learning their trade?

There will be no solution any time soon as this grim burial of two clubs that not only enjoyed success but mean so much to so many people, is due to be a drawn out affair. In contact with the administrators on a regular basis, there is only hope that the powers that be come up with a comprehensive plan for the long-term success of professional rugby in England.

The only question you can really ask yourself in response to that is, how much do you actually trust those with influence in the game to make the correct decisions?

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