American consortium closes in on London Irish takeover
London Irish are on the verge of a takeover by an American consortium which still needs to pass the Rugby Football Union’s fit and proper persons test to rescue the debt-stricken Premiership club.
There is considerable optimism within Irish that the takeover could be completed by next week, although negotiations with the consortium and owner Mick Crossan, who had offered to give away the club for free, have dragged on for a number of weeks.
After both Worcester Warriors and Wasps went into administration this season, English rugby could ill afford to see another club go to the wall. London Irish have debts in excess of £30 million and are understood to be due to start repaying their Covid recovery loans imminently to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
There were fears that the Exiles would be unable to complete their payroll obligations this month but the club quickly released a statement to deny that this was the case. “It has been public knowledge that the club is exploring its options with regards to investment, however no comment will be made until there is anything to announce,” the club statement said. “In regards to recent media reports, London Irish can categorically confirm that all staff will be paid this month. Anything reported to the contrary is pure speculation.”
The RFU has also received assurances that employees will be paid on Friday, which is believed to have been facilitated by a cash injection from the prospective buyers.
However, the RFU will not rush through any vetting procedure of the new owners. In November, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney was accused of being “asleep on the job” by MPs in a DCMS select committee hearing into the demise of Worcester and Wasps. Proof of funding will be required for the takeover to be completed. Yet while various white knights – fictitious or otherwise – were linked with rescuing Worcester and Wasps, there is far more confidence that the American investors, who are thought to have links to other sporting organisations, will come through for the Exiles.
On the field, Irish have enjoyed a tremendously successful season, sitting in fourth place as they attempt to qualify for the play-offs for the first time in 14 years. As recently documented by Telegraph Sport, their production line of young English talent is as strong as ever. Even with Ollie Hassell-Collins’ decision to join Leicester Tigers this summer, they have a potential trio of superstars on their hands in the form of England wing Henry Arundell along with budding back-rowers Tom Pearson and Chandler Cunningham-South.
Without owning their own stadium, the club have long struggled to find a financially sustainable model despite moving from Reading two years ago to become tenants at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium. They have one of the smallest turnovers in the Premiership with Crossan underwriting their losses.
However even his largesse has its limits and at the start of the season he stated he was willing to offload the club with no return on his considerable investment. “If anyone’s looking to buy a rugby club with its own training ground and perpetual (P) shares then they don’t even have to buy it,” Crossan told The Mail on Sunday. “I’ll give it to them as long as they fund it.”
Meanwhile, Saracens are hopeful that England captain Owen Farrell will be available for selection this weekend despite suffering a recurrence of his ankle injury against Harlequins last Saturday. Farrell had been carrying the injury during the latter weeks of England’s Six Nations campaign and hobbled off in the 70th minute at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in considerable discomfort.
However, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall says he expects the 31-year-old to be in line to play in the Champions Cup last-16 tie against the Ospreys on Sunday. “He took part in some of the training today so we are relatively optimistic that he will be available for this weekend,” McCall said. “He didn’t need a scan. He was much better on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday after the game. Trained today. As long as there’s no reaction to training today I am sure he will be OK.”