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Premiership on the brink of losing third club

NEWS: London Irish could join Wasps and Worcester in being suspended from the Premiership on Tuesday following a season of unprecedented financial turmoil in English club rugby.

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Earlier this month, the Rugby Football Union set a May 30 deadline for London Irish to prove a proposed takeover by an American consortium is not a genuine concern, with the Exiles having reported debts of £30 million (35 million euros, $37 million).

The RFU, the English game’s governing body, stressed the Exiles had to satisfy several conditions in order to compete in the Premiership next season.

These included a takeover completed by May 30, which would also require RFU approval, with the buyers undertaking to provide all required working capital to meet the club’s obligations for at least next season, or the club showing that it will continue to be funded to operate throughout that campaign.

The RFU added: “If the club fails to meet these conditions, it will be suspended from participating in the Premiership [and other competitions] in season 2023/24 to avoid a scenario where the club enters insolvency mid-season, with the corresponding and substantial impact that has on players, staff and fans, as well as on the remainder of the league.”

But the takeover, let alone one that satisfies the RFU’s conditions, looks increasingly unlikely to go through by Tuesday’s deadline.

The Daily Mail reported that during a virtual meeting on Friday, players were told they were free to talk to other clubs amid the ongoing uncertainty.

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But with a salary cap in place and the market for players already flooded after Wasps and Worcester were expelled from the Premiership after entering administration earlier this season, finding a new club may be difficult.

Significantly, London Irish do not own their own ground, with the club now playing its home games at Brentford football club’s Gtech Community Stadium.

That makes it all the more difficult to generate revenue, with the Exiles’ long-term owner Mick Crossan saying in September he was ready to sell up.

London Irish lock Api Ratuniyarawa, speaking before Friday’s meeting, told the Mail: “We’ve got families. We’ve got bills to pay. It’s quite stressful thinking about – hopefully it goes through. We are just hoping for the best.”

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A top-flight campaign that started with 13 clubs ended with Saracens’ the best of the surviving 11 following their 35-25 win over Sale in the Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday.

London Irish, coached by former Ireland boss Declan Kidney, narrowly missed out on the title-deciding play-offs with the side featuring several rising stars, including England wing Henry Arundell.

But the off-field picture remains troubling, with Saracens supremo Mark McCall, a former Exiles and Ireland centre, saying after Saturday’s final: “It’s hard to be jubilant when these things are happening.

“I love London Irish and it would be awful if that (the club going out of business) happens.”

He added: “It’s a shame because it feels like the on-field product is good. Hopefully we can get it right off the field.”

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