Rugby Union: Chaos strikesmerger plans

Tim Glover finds rugby's first super club is already in turmoil

THE SO-CALLED merger between London Irish, Richmond and London Scottish rugby clubs ran into huge problems last week when a meeting of English First Division Rugby ended in disarray. "Most EFDR meetings are very stormy," Geoff Read, the London Irish chairman, admitted. "There's nothing unusual in that."

This one, however, reached such hurricane force that a "time out" had to be called to prevent several of the protagonists from coming to blows, and Tom Walkinshaw, the chairman, offered to resign.

EFDR want the number of clubs in the Premiership reduced from 14 to 12 and offered pounds 1.5m for the three London rivals to become one. More than a month after the announcement, nobody has received a penny. "Deals have been reneged on and deadlines missed," an insider said. "There are more creditors than anybody realised and the clubs now find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Had this meeting being held in another age there would have been pistols at dawn."

As it was there were heated exchanges between Read, Walkinshaw, Tony Tiarks, the former chairman of London Scottish and Nick de Scossa, the chief executive of Bristol, who bought a share of the Scottish last season but are now said to be disillusioned at the scale of the liabilities.

Richmond went into administration in March when Ashley Levett, their principal shareholder, suddenly decided to cut his losses, which have been estimated at pounds 8m. The club's administrators expected to receive a cheque from EFDR last week. They are still waiting. The crisis has been exacerbated by the non-appearance of funds (sponsorship money, TV revenue, etc) from Euro-pean Rugby Limited. There is now uncertainty over Europe, with several backers withdrawing support.

On paper the "merger", approved by the RFU, creates the "first of a new generation of super clubs". The Irish maintained that the squad would consist of players from all three clubs. Dick Best, the London Irish coach, has recruited two players from the Scottish but not one from Richmond. "We would like to, but they had either joined other clubs or we were outbid," Read said. "The new club will reflect the traditions of Richmond and London Scottish. This will probably be the best season in the history of the three clubs."

Ben Clarke, the Richmond captain and the last to leave the sinking ship, joined Bath recently. "If there had been a true merger I might have gone to London Irish," Clarke said, "but it was a takeover."

Read, who said the Richmond colours would be incorporated into the new jerseys, added: "We have been frustrated by the delay in the money being paid because people acting out of spite have been working as hard to undermine the deal as we have been working to secure the future.

"The politics of rugby gets in the way of the business of rugby and that's a major irritant. We have been promised the money and I'm confident we'll get it. If we don't there will be major ructions. The merger has happened in all but detail. The fixture list is out and Richmond and London Scottish are not on it."

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