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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Gerard Meagher

London Irish set to become third club ejected from Premiership

London Irish’s Henry Arundell
London Irish’s Henry Arundell could join Bath. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

London Irish are expected to become the third team ejected from the Premiership in eight months with the Rugby Football Union poised to suspend the Exiles should they miss Tuesday’s 5pm deadline regarding the proposed takeover.

The situation is such that several players have been seeking to line up provisional moves with England’s Henry Arundell understood to be on Bath’s radar, Paddy Jackson on Newcastle’s, and the back-rower Tom Pearson believed to be of interest to Bath and Bristol among a host of suitors.

With just hours to go until the RFU’s deadline, Irish are staring down the barrel and but for a late reprieve they will follow Wasps and Worcester out of the league.

Either the takeover by a US consortium is completed before close of business, or the current owners provide proof they will fund the Exiles for next season, or they will be suspended from the Premiership.

Last Friday the squad was advised to prepare for the prospect of being suspended with no sign of progress despite repeated insistence from the club’s hierarchy that the takeover was close to being completed.

There has been widespread resignation that the doomsday scenario will materialise and should the RFU’s deadline, which was set this month, come and go, the union’s club finance viability working group will meet to make a recommendation to the board with an announcement expected on Wednesday. One well-placed source summed up the mood when telling the Guardian “as far as I’m concerned, they’re gone”.

The RFU set Irish the deadline after the April wages were paid late because the consortium was unable to transfer the funds, leaving the current owner Mick Crossan to belatedly step in. Crossan was absent last Friday from the meeting at which the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association were all present. If the takeover is not completed on Tuesday, Crossan would have to prove his commitment to funding the club but he has been looking to offload it all season.

Irish’s suspension would accelerate PRL’s plans for a 10-team league from next season but would leave dozens of players out of work in a crowded market.

It is understood players and coaches are being widely touted around clubs in the Premiership and the Championship but the majority would likely head abroad given the tight salary cap restrictions in England. One option would be to give Premiership clubs dispensation within the cap to sign London Irish players but that would require unanimous approval and would likely be met with resistance from those who choose not to spend up to the cap. A fund is also being set up by the RFU and PRL to offer hardship support.

The deadline was also set because both the RFU and PRL are desperate to avoid another season in which clubs have to drop out midway through. They do not want the Irish saga to drag over the summer and into next season but the demise of the Exiles would ramp up the pressure on both organisations.

In November, the RFU’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney, was accused of being “asleep on the job” while he and Premiership Rugby’s Simon Massie-Taylor were blamed for “failure on an epic scale” at a parliamentary inquiry into the demises of Worcester and Wasps.

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