By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
English rugby’s flagship domestic competition is in meltdown with Wasps facing a “likely” move into administration just six days after Worcester were suspended from the Gallagher Premiership.
Wasps, four-time Premiership champions, have withdrawn from Saturday’s league game against Exeter and accept that administration will probably follow “in the coming days”.
It is another colossal blow for the English domestic game as chronic financial issues continue to engulf its professional arm.
In light of our current financial situation the Men’s team have withdrawn from this Saturday’s fixture against Exeter Chiefs.
Full statement 👉 https://t.co/0270jNM6Sa pic.twitter.com/ZVXd5Z6iOp
— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) October 12, 2022
Worcester have been suspended from Premiership action for the rest of this season, with relegation to follow, after the club’s partial liquidation.
Wasps Holdings Limited recently confirmed a second notice of intention to appoint administrators had been filed, revealing talks were at “a relatively advanced stage” with possible investors in the face of a winding-up order from HM Revenue and Customs for £2million in unpaid tax.
Former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is understood to be one of those interested parties.
Wasps also face having to repay a £35million bond which had helped finance the club’s relocation to Coventry during 2014.
Wasps’ only hope of avoiding following Worcester out of the Premiership if they go into administration would rest on them proving a “no fault” solvency event because of the global pandemic.
It is understood that Wasps players and staff – who now face uncertain futures – were informed of Wednesday’s developments during a lunchtime meeting.
“Since filing a notice of intention to appoint administrators on 21st September, we have been working tirelessly to secure the long-term future for Wasps Holdings Limited, and all of the organisations and clubs that sit within the Group,” a WHL statement read.
“Negotiations to secure deals that will allow the men’s and women’s rugby teams, netball team and the arena (Coventry Building Society Arena) and associated business to move forward are ongoing.
To Everyone at @WaspsRugby and your Supporters, we're deeply Saddened by this News
This is a match much loved by our Team & Fans, and to not be welcoming you to @SandyParkExeter is a huge loss!
You have the support of everyone at Exeter Chiefs, and the Wider Rugby Community!🏼🏽 pic.twitter.com/4fMV8AXo9f
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) October 12, 2022
“However, it has become clear that there is likely to be insufficient time to find a solvent solution for the companies within the Group, and it is therefore likely that they will enter into administration in the coming days with a view to concluding deals shortly thereafter.
“While the companies within the Group all represent strong and viable businesses, the reality is that they have insufficient cash at this time to continue to fund operations until these complex negotiations have concluded.
“We have therefore been asking potential funders and investors to provide bridging finance to provide enough time for a solvent solution to be found. Regrettably, this has not been possible to date, although we will continue to pursue this until the very last opportunity.
“In light of the current situation, we have therefore taken the decision to withdraw the Wasps men’s team from this Saturday’s league fixture against Exeter Chiefs.
“This was an extremely difficult decision to make and we recognise that this will not only impact on our players, staff and supporters, but also Exeter Chiefs and the wider rugby community.
“However, we strongly believe it is the right course of action when, at this time, we are unable to meet our regulatory requirements in the absence of fully concluded deal negotiations.
“We understand that this news will be disappointing and concerning for everyone involved. Our immediate focus will be on ensuring that all of our players and the staff of Wasps and the arena are fully updated and given the support they need.
“While these are challenging times, we remain confident that new owners will be found that will allow the clubs and businesses within the Group to move forward.”
Exeter chairman and chief executive Tony Rowe said: “We are saddened to hear today’s announcement made by Wasps Holdings Limited.
“The loss of the fixture this weekend is hugely disappointing, not only for those associated with Wasps, but also our own supporters and the wider rugby community as a whole.”
Wasps have been ever present in the Premiership since the competition began 25 years ago, winning it in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008.
Wasps were also crowned European champions twice, in addition to achieving one European Challenge Cup triumph.
And they have fielded some of England’s most well-known players during rugby union’s professional era.
The 2003 World Cup-winning England squad included five Wasps players – Lawrence Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey, Stuart Abbott, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley.