Rugby union: Rival bid counters Exiles' `merger'

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The Independent Online
A BLIZZARD of faxes was howling across south-west London yesterday as statement and counterclaim swirled around the proposed takeover by London Irish of troubled Richmond and London Scottish.

The declaration by London Irish Holdings Ltd that, "subject to formal approval by the Rugby Football Union and English First Division Rugby", the Allied Dunbar Premiership would have its first so-called super club, and a slimmed down First Division for the start of next season, was left under something of a cloud when it was revealed that a rival bid had been lodged with Richmond's administrator on Friday.

A group of Richmond die-hards and former players styling themselves the Richmond Vikings had staged a last-minute raid, coming in with an offer believed to be around pounds 750,000 for the ailing club.

That means the administrator will have to consider the Vikings' bid alongside that of London Irish Holdings, which is co-owned by London Irish (51 per cent), London Scottish (34) and Richmond (15), although the latter two shares are subject to change following objections by Richmond. A figure nearer 20 per cent for Richmond and 30 for London Scottish looks more likely.

The administrator's duty is to get the best deal he can for the creditors. The sound money is on the Irish bid, which is believed to be substantially more than the Vikings offer. Once the bid has been accepted there remains the matter of the RFU.

Yesterday the RFU issued a reminder of the new regulations on mergers, takeovers and acquisitions which the council agreed on 7 May. Under the new regulations clubs trying to effect a merger must give "not less than two months' written notice" of their intention to do so.

However, it is unlikely that the Irish bid will fall foul of the rules. Geoff Read, the chairman of London Irish Holdings, explained yesterday: "There is almost three months to the start of the season and this deal could not have been done before the end of the previous one, so a certain pragmatism is required."

The granting of that consent will be discussed at a special meeting of the RFU management board, which Twickenham claims will be called at the earliest opportunity. EFDR yesterday promised to approve the deal "within a very short time scale". It is in their interest to. They want to reduce Premiership One from 14 to 12 clubs and to draw up next season's fixtures within the month. That takeover is the perfect solution.

But the deal will still allow all three clubs to operate as amateurs, provided they have somewhere to play: Richmond are selling their Athletic Ground to Chelsea FC, who will train there. The super club will use Harlequins' Stoop Memorial Ground as its playing base.

Read, a Dubliner who founded, then sold, the Ballygowan mineral water company, insists it is a merger not a takeover, a debatable point, and that it is for the good of the three clubs.

He insisted the traditions of all three clubs would be respected and promised the new kit would reflect elements of each party to the deal.

There is opposition from within Richmond's ranks and apart from the rival bid there is talk of fighting the takeover in the courts. Unfortunately, by placing their affairs in the hands of the administrator, the club relinquished any say it might have had in its fate.