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'Worcester are not out of the woods yet, let's be frank about that'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Worcester boss Steve Diamond gave his London Irish counterpart Declan Kidney a massively warm and vigorous handshake on his way out the door at Twickenham on Thursday lunchtime not long after Premiership Rugby boss Simon Massie-Taylor confirmed that the Warriors will participate in a 13-team English league this season.

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The September 10th season-opener at Brentford, just under four miles away from English Rugby HQ which was hosting the official launch of the new 2022/23 Premiership season, was in doubt until it emerged late on Wednesday night via Diamond’s Twitter account that his Worcester players had been paid.

With this Friday’s pre-season match against Glasgow in Inverness already cancelled, it was feared that non-payment of the August 31 payroll would trigger further chaos at the already chaotic club. Any player not in receipt of his wages would have been entitled to serve notice to Worcester to rectify the outstanding payment and if this wasn’t resolved within 14 days, the player could then terminate his contracts (which also takes 14 days) and leave Sixways as a free agent.

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However, that potential player exodus has been curtailed for now, Premiership CEO Massie-Taylor taking to the stage at the league’s new season launch to reassure all those present in the RFU hospitality room on September 1 that 13 teams will be at the start line for the new campaign and that contingency plans for a revised twelve-team tournament have been shelved for now.

It was 11:53am, about an hour before Diamond warmly embraced Irish boss Kidney with a nod and wink that he will be seeing him in nine days’ time, when Massie-Taylor officially confirmed that Worcester were back in business despite the mid-August winding-up petition issued by HMRC over an unpaid tax bill.

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“It has definitely dominated a lot of people’s attention over the last few weeks, so let me give you a very quick update,” said the Premiership CEO, who shared the launch stage with a trio of club bosses, Leicester’s Steve Borthwick, Harlequins’ Tabai Matson and Newcastle’s Dave Walder. “Clearly, it is well documented what happened a few weeks ago with the club’s challenges with HMRC and the winding-up petition.

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“That triggered a very intense period over the last few weeks which has principally involved the club but also the RFU, who are essentially the regulator, and the RPA. DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] also because they are a major creditor of the club, and ourselves.

“Coming through this, it has actually been a very positive process with those parties all working collaboratively and I thank everyone that has been involved to date in working through this challenge.

“I would like to specifically call out the (Worcester) player group who have had it really tough over the last few weeks given the uncertainty and clearly they are not out of the woods yet, so we are really thinking about the players at the moment and equally I would like to acknowledge the RPA who have been a steady hand throughout this process.

“They have been in constant contact with the players and giving some good advice to them as they work through this, so I would just like to acknowledge that and we got to the point where last night the club was able to confirm that they could make payroll – they are going through payroll at the moment.

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“Clearly, some of the challenges of having a winding-up petition is you need to have certain bank accounts frozen so they are going through that at the moment but the players have been given assurances will get paid this month so that takes us to the beginning of the season.

“Worcester are able to take the pitch on the tenth and start the season but, as I say, they are not out of the woods yet, let’s be frank about that, and the next month or so is key for them in finding a long-term solution for the club.

“The owners are very confident about that and essentially, by taking the risk on the payroll this month, it is a signal of their confidence but they are working through that. That is where we are, a 13-team league, Worcester Warriors playing on the tenth against London Irish.”

No wonder Diamond, who attended the Premiership launch in the company of Worcester skipper Ted Hill, was all smiles when he did the media rounds at the annual pre-season Twickenham event.

“It’s about not only from our side, Premiership Rugby, but also the RFU being confident that the players were first of all able to play in the league but also there are a number of other matters, for example, insurance and other measures which the RFU were very clear about outlining to the club,” added Massie-Taylor.

“At the moment they feel satisfied that the team is able to enter into the league but, as I say, the next month or so, the next payroll and the long-term solution is the outstanding matter. There was obviously a lot of contingency planning in the background if Worcester weren’t able to take the pitch at the beginning of the season but the season structure stays as it is.”

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