Rugby Union: Ailing Richmond battle against the bean-counters

RICHMOND'S OCCUPATION of the moral high ground remained unchallenged yesterday as the financially embarrassed Premiership One club continued to resist the cynical machinations of their top-flight rivals to strip them of their professional status.

Club officials remained adamant that a proposed hostile buy-out by English First Division Rugby was legally untenable and appealed to Allied Dunbar, the high-profile sponsors of the domestic championship, for support in their fight against the "draconian" move to put them out of business.

At least five Premiership directors of rugby were making their feelings known to their respective chief executives, despite EFDR's staggeringly dictatorial attempt to maintain a united front by threatening public dissenters with pounds 25,000 fines. As one coach put it at the weekend: "This isn't rugby and the people driving this through know it isn't rugby. It's one thing for a club to fail on the pitch and go to the wall. It's quite another for them to have the plug pulled by a collection of suits sitting round a boardroom table."

Yet there was a distinct whiff of opportunism amid all the solidarity. Bristol, newly promoted and keen to build a viable First Division squad for next season, are suddenly very interested in a number of Richmond regulars, including Agustin Pichot, Barry Williams, Craig Quinnell and Adam Vander. Spencer Brown, Allan Bateman, Darren Crompton and Ben Clarke are also likely to receive a seductive phone call or two before the week is out.

Tony Dorman, the Richmond president, claimed yesterday that Tom Walkinshaw, the EFDR chairman widely identified as the villain of the piece, had agreed to take the issue back to his board for reconsideration, but there was no confirmation of any such volte face. Indeed, Howard Thomas, the EFDR chief executive, was standing firm. "Richmond are understandably emotional, but we have put in the offer to buy their Premiership share to protect the amateur side of the club," he said. "If we acquire their share, they will cease to exist as a professional entity. However, we believe our offer to be acceptable in financial terms."

If Richmond, currently in financial administration, reject that offer, believed to be in the region of pounds 500,000, EFDR intend to exercise their alleged right to buy them out of the Premiership for pounds 1. However, the first deadline of yesterday lunchtime passed without incident after the administrators themselves threw their weight behind Dorman's on-going attempt to piece together a seven-figure rescue package. Tomorrow's important match with Saracens at the Madejski Stadium will therefore go ahead.

There has never been any doubt over this weekend's Tetley's Bitter Cup final between Newcastle and Wasps, although the organisers are still wondering whether the showpiece occasion will attract a quorum of supporters. According to Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, the competition is likely to generate far more momentum next season, when the winners will be rewarded with automatic European qualification.

"There's no point winning the cup on the Saturday and going bust on the Sunday," said Melville, wearing his blunt Yorkshireman's hat. "At the moment, it costs a club money to put together a good cup run. We've travelled to Sedgley Park and hosted Waterloo at Loftus Road this season and you don't make much out of those sorts of fixtures. But the European link will make the cup better business for the professional clubs. It's a wonderful competition because everyone takes part in it, but you have to earn through it too."

Melville will name his side tomorrow. The one major worry surrounds Simon Shaw, the former England lock, whose cauliflower ear has filled with blood and requires constant attention. Charming.