The final curtain is set to fall on London Irish on Tuesday as the Premiership awaits the latest sad development in a grim domestic season. The Exiles have been given until 4pm (BST) to finalise their long-mooted American takeover and there is a heavy sense of resignation in the air.
It is understood the Rugby Football Union will make a formal announcement at around 7pm on Tuesday once it has been confirmed whether or not Irish have satisfied the two key requirements they were ordered to meet last week. The RFU either wants to see conclusive proof of the proposed takeover or receive a commitment from the club’s owner, Mick Crossan, that he will continue to fund the club next season. The players and staff are still awaiting 50% of their May salaries.
With the club having now received a further hit in the form of a winding‑up petition by HM Revenue and Customs for unpaid tax, the mood has grown steadily darker in recent days despite the continuing insistence of the US-based consortium that work has been continuing “around the clock” over the weekend to make the deal happen.
It is understood the main American interest has always revolved around the Exiles’ training ground in Sunbury-on-Thames, which is seen as a potential home for a London-based NFL franchise. With Brentford not keen to extend Irish’s lease at the Gtech Community Stadium and Crossan reluctant to continue funding the loss-making club, the playing squad and staff have been operating in a climate of uncertainty for months.
Assuming Irish’s suspension from the Premiership is rubber-stamped, it will be the third major blow to English club rugby’s reputation inside nine months. Worcester went into administration in September while the cash-strapped Wasps were suspended a month later. Last Friday, the government announced it was stepping in to help the RFU and Premiership Rugby to work towards sustainability in the professional game.
That ambition feels as remote as it has done at any time since the sport turned professional in the mid 1990s. “This is a disaster,” one source said on Monday before a big week of significant strategy meetings and a potentially stormy RFU annual general meeting on Friday week.
A slimmed-down 10-team Premiership – in contrast to last season’s 13-club competition – is seen by some as a better model but there is still no firm agreement on the future shape and funding of the second-tier Championship.
The RFU, meanwhile, will elect a female president in 2025 with Deborah Griffin in line to become the first woman to assume the role. Griffin, who founded the Women’s Rugby Football Union in 1983 and chaired the organisation of the inaugural women’s World Cup in 1991, will be in position when England host the 2025 World Cup, assuming her nomination as a vice-president is confirmed at next week’s AGM.
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Between now and then, Rob Briers will formally take office this month with Rob Unwin succeeding him in the presidential chair before Griffin’s groundbreaking elevation in two years’ time.