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Where are they now? The last Worcester team before the collapse

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Tuesday morning was a sharp reminder of the pitfalls of Gallagher Premiership rugby, Bath announcing an hour before they unveiled Finn Russell as a new signing for 2023/24 that their recent recruit, Billy Searle of Worcester, had exited the club just five days before Christmas.

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It was the summer of 2020 when the ex-Wasps and Bristol out-half arrived at Sixways with high hopes of achievement at Worcester only to find himself unemployed two years later when the financially stricken club went to the wall.

The October 5 insolvency court liquidation of the company that held the club’s player contracts was the final straw, Judge Nicholas Briggs making an order winding up WRFC Players Ltd eleven days after Worcester had played their last Premiership match.

Twelve-and-a-half weeks on from that 39-5 September 24 win over Newcastle, RugbyPass has investigated what has since happened to the matchday 23 that fielded against the Falcons and how they have fared in the bottleneck player recruitment market.

Seven of that Worcester 23 are currently contracted to Premiership clubs, six are unattached free agents, five have moved into the URC, three are playing in the English Championship, while one has gone to Japan and another to the Top 14:

15. Jamie Shillcock
It was October 21 when the 25-year-old full-back was snapped up by Bath as short-term injury cover. He made just a single appearance, starting against Leicester in the November 11 Premiership win at The Rec but he exited the club 16 days later for a contract in Japan with the Mitsubishi Dynaboars, for whom he debuted last weekend off the bench versus Black Rams Tokyo.

14. Alex Hearle
The 24-year-old winger was part of a three-player signing from Worcester unveiled by Gloucester on October 17. He has since made three Premiership appearances off the bench before starting both the Kingsholm club’s games in the Heineken Champions Cup. The 20-year-old centre Seb Atkinson, one of the other players who made the switch with Hearle to Gloucester, has featured in all three of the club’s December games, while 19-year-old hooker Finn Theobald-Thomas has played in the Prem Cup.

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13. Ollie Lawrence
It was October 2 when Worcester director of rugby Steve Diamond tweeted that Lawrence was one of four players joining Bath on loan with immediate effect, a switch that became permanent on an unspecified length contract a week later after the out-of-favour England centre had starred on his debut versus Gloucester. The 23-year-old has so far made eight Bath appearances, quickly becoming a fan favourite at The Rec.

12. Francois Venter
The 31-year-old former Springboks centre – who signed for Worcester in 2018 – was unveiled as a Sharks signing on October 16 and he has since fitted in swiftly, starting five matches for the Durban-based URC franchise in the league and in the Heineken Champions Cup.

11. Duhan van der Merwe
The 27-year-old was one of the first ex-Worcester players to secure his future as the 2021 Lions tour pick committed to rejoining Edinburgh just hours after becoming a free agent with the October 5 insolvency court decision. He had since played four times for the Scottish URC club in the league and Europe while starting all four Scotland games in the recent Autumn Nations Series.

10. Billy Searle
It was 16 days after Worcester players all became free agents in early October that the 26-year-old our-half was signed as injury cover by Bath along with full-back Shillcock. He scored five points on his debut but that November 5 Premiership win at Newcastle proved to be his only appearance for the club as he was injured in that match and was released by Bath on Tuesday.

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9. Gareth Simpson
Having started all three Worcester matches this season before their collapse, the scrum-half kept his eye in with a short stint at Saracens as injury cover for Aled Davies. He played two Premiership games in early November before linking up with the Barbarians for their three games versus top-flight English clubs. Now a free agent again, there is speculation he will become a permanent Saracens signing for the 2023/24 season.

1. Murray McCallum
Capped by Scotland in 2018, the 26-year-old was another Warriors player who pitched up for the Barbarians during their November club tour in England. The loosehead is now back to being a free agent and looking to sort out a club for 2023.

2. Curtis Langdon
The 2021 England international was only a summer 2022 recruit at Worcester, Diamond going back to his old club Sale to sign the hooker. However, the 25-year-old’s Warriors career lasted just three games but he quickly organised work elsewhere, joining Perpignan on October 19 and going on to play four games so far for the French club in the Top 14 and Europe.

3. Jay Tyack
It was October 28 when word broke that the 26-year-old tighthead had been signed by Bristol, as he had been named on their bench for that weekend’s Premiership game at Northampton. He has so far made six appearances for the Bears, including two in the Challenge Cup.

4. Joe Batley
It only took the lock a day after he became a free agent to sort out a deal elsewhere, re-joining Bristol on October 6, the club he had previously played for during the Pat Lam era before arriving at Sixways via Leicester and Hartpury. The 26-year-old has been a starter in all of his seven Premiership and Challenge Cup games back at the Ashton Gate club.

5. Andrew Kitchener
It was October 11 when Saracens snapped up the 26-year-old lock on a short-term deal along with Worcester winger Tom Howe. He has since made three Premiership appearances for the Londoners, including a November start versus Northampton.

6. Fergus Lee-Warner
The 28-year-old Australian was another of Diamond’s summer signings for the 2022/23 season, arriving from Western Force only to soon find himself out of work. That idleness didn’t last long as the lock/back-rower was one of the four players quickly signed by Bath on an injury-dispensation loan at the start of October. That deal has since been made permanent for the remainder of the 2022/23 season and he so far has made seven appearances for his new club.

7. Cameron Neild
Just like hooker Langdon, the 28-year-old back-rower was a summer signing from Sale, Diamond’s old club, where he had spent eight seasons. Another who started all three Worcester games before they folded, Neild was named as a new Glasgow signing on November 15 and he made his debut the other week versus Bath in the Challenge Cup.

8. Tom Dodd
The 25-year-old was another forward to quickly organise his post-Worcester future as he was unveiled as a new signing by Coventry, the English Championship club, on October 13, eight days after becoming a free agent.

Replacements:
16. Hame Faiva
The 28-year-old Italian international hooker was another of Diamond’s high-profile summer signings, the former Auckland Blues player joining Worcester from Benetton. His Warriors career amounted to just 86 minutes, though, and he remains a free agent.

17. Kai Owen
The 23-year-old loosehead previously played in the Championship for Leeds and Coventry and he quickly enlisted for second-tier duty when becoming an October 7 Doncaster signing for the remainder of 2022/23.

18. Jack Owlett
It was 2021 when the 27-year-old swapped Wasps for Worcester and having yet to secure his future, he has been one of the most vocal players in recent weeks in publicising the Warriors’ plight as the club’s RPA representative. It was November 24 when he addressed a Government select committee, stating: “I hope today is the first step in the much-needed reform of the governance of rugby.”

19. Graham Kitchener
The 33-year-old older brother of fellow forward Andrew, Graham is still a free agent despite showing what he has to offer when touring England last month with the Barbarians.

20. Matt Kvesic
The former England international opted to join Zebre Parma, the Italian-based URC franchise, on November 16 for the remainder of this season. The 30-year-old has gone on to play four times so far for his new team.

21. Will Chudley
The seasoned 34-year-old scrum-half joined Worcester from Bath on a two-year deal in 2021. It was seven days after the Warriors players were all made free agents at the October 5 insolvency court that he was named as a new Coventry signing for the 2022/23 Championship.

22. Oli Morris
The Irish-qualified 23-year-old midfielder, who made a try-scoring debut for Worcester in Russia in November 2019, was snapped up by Munster on October 25 until the end of this season. He is still waiting to make a debut, however.

23. Noah Heward
The 22-year-old former England age-grade player saw his back three versatility come in handy as Bristol snapped him up on October 31 on a two-year deal.

  • Some big names who didn’t feature in the last match played by Worcester were Fin Smith and Rory Sutherland. The young out-half has since moved to Northampton,  taking over from the now-departed Dan Biggar, while 2021 Lions prop Sutherland was snapped up by Ulster in the URC.  
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