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'This has been mentally the worst time I have known in rugby'

By Chris Jones
Fans in a limited capacity Sixways greet the players after the game /PA

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Nick Easter has survived relegation, Bloodgate and seeing an opposition coach pull out a gun at the end of a match but nothing has prepared the former England captain for the mental torment he is current enduring as Worcester Warriors lurch towards suspension from the Premiership.

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The financial crisis engulfing Worcester has forced the Warriors defence coach to question the sport he loves and he is demanding English rugby chiefs never allow another club to suffer the “mental torment” everyone at Sixways is enduring.

Easter’s long career with Harlequins involved a drop down to the Championship and the ignominy of the club’s use of fake blood in 2009 to replace a player and Saturday’s match with Newcastle, the club he left to join Worcester as forwards coach in the summer, could be the last the Warriors are allowed to play this season due to a debt of £25m and a failure to find new investment by owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham.

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Easter, who won 54 England caps, is adamant rugby union in England needs to introduce regulations to forensically examine future club owners before they are given control of a Premiership outfit. The crisis reached the House of Commons yesterday with a revelation that Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) advisors will visit the club and could order it put in administration.

Easter said: “This has been mentally the worst time I have known in rugby and that includes going through relegation and Bloodgate at Harlequins. How we have got to this situation I just don’t know. How on earth isn’t there the proper governance and vetting (of owners). Why isn’t there a proper owners’ test, six month auditing to make sure everything is in place and do they have the funds for five years?

“It is quite startling that people have just sat on their hands. I get it when people say it’s private ownership but it isn’t really is it? Everyone has an interest and hopefully this sort of thing won’t happen again and lessons will be learnt.

“It was highly avoidable and let’s hope we come out the other side with more stringent rules so that no one has to go through this again.

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“Bloodgate was a similar horror show but we bounced back after that while still getting paid and being able to pay the bills without that kind of distraction. A lot of people are worse off than me at the club and the mental torture and torment is taking a real toll on them.

“It doesn’t help when promises are not fulfilled continuously and all you want is honesty and not to be fobbed off. Guys knows what is really going on and don’t believe a word of it.”

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Worcester’s descent into the financial black hole that threatens the club’s future is also impacting on the wider Warriors family Easter’s wife Kerry is on maternity leave looking after their two young children in the house they bought having relocated from Newcastle in the summer.

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Inevitably, the problems are taken home by the players, staff and management spreading the worry and angst. “My wife has been extraordinarily strong and supportive while dealing with six month old Amelia and a three and a half year old Jacob who has started school in a new area,” explained Easter.

“She is still on maternity leave and we have just moved house and she has been very impressive. There are times I am a bit vacant in the room because of what’s going on and there are low points. She has been really good at managing frustrations and not blowing up at me.

“I had a great two years at Newcastle but from a family point of view we were always going to be coming back down South as some stage as it was a long way from support. I am still very happy with my decision (to join Worcester) even if the worst happens.

“Usually, when you play your old team there is some banter and I was coaching Newcastle when they dusted Worcester last season. They will be very confident coming back down to Sixways with their changing of the guard with Dean Richards moving on. Some of the Newcastle coaches and players have sent texts but it’s been a bit quiet in recent weeks with the game coming up.

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“This experience has not been great and probably has shaken my love for the game a little bit. I am not 100 per cent confident, but I am more confident than not that I will be here with Worcester in a year’s time.”

When he was starting out in the sport, Easter played for the Villagers club in Cape Town which is when he saw a gun pulled out on the pitch. The situation at Worcester is dangerous in a less obvious way for everyone at the club and the wider game with Wasps also in deep financial problems.

Easter believes Steve Diamond has been vital to Warriors being able to put out teams amid the cash crisis that will come to a head on Monday when the Rugby Football Union is scheduled to suspend them from all competitions due to a lack of funds to satisfy a series of criteria vital to the safety of all concerned.

He added: “Our coach (at Villagers) turned around as we had a team huddle after a tough win and heard all this abuse from this ring leader and he walked towards him and the guy pulled a gun on him. Rugby is not meant to be this stressful.

“Dimes (Diamond) is someone I have always wanted to work for, if given the opportunity, because he is no nonsense , tells it how it is without any bullshit.

“One thing I can say that having worked under excellent captains and directors of rugby, this is the most outstanding piece of leadership I have seen in terms of how Dimes has dealt with this. I don’t think there is another DOR what would have been able to keep the squad this tight throughout this harrowing process.”

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