Twickenham's attempts to broaden the base of the club game in England by transforming the old Second Division into a football-style "Championship" full of ambitious, increasingly professionalised teams was dealt a second blow yesterday when Coventry, one of the great names of the past, found themselves being closed down. Andrew Green, the chairman, said a combination of debts, stadium issues and the absence of realistic refinancing opportunities left him with no alternative but to shut up shop.
The news followed hard on the heels of neighbouring Birmingham-Solihull's descent into voluntary liquidation in October. The RFU docked Birmingham-Solihull 15 points, but then granted the club a new licence to compete in the Championship after temporarily agreeing to restructuring proposals presented by a new board of directors. A detailed business plan is scheduled to go before the union before the start of next season.
Whether Coventry, who gave the likes of David Duckham to the game, can piece together a rescue package along similar lines is open to debate. Green said that despite interest from a number of potential investors, problems over the leasing arrangements at the 7,000 capacity Barkers Butts Arena had made progress impossible. "This is a very sad day for rugby in Coventry, but the club can't ignore the present situation regarding its debts and creditors," he added.
An RFU spokesman said it was seeking clarification on a number of issues. The chief executive, Francis Baron, was scheduled to meet this afternoon with Coventry president Peter Rossborough along with the RFU chairman Martyn Thomas, a keen advocate of the revamped Championship tournament, and Karena Vleck, the union's company secretary.
Coventry's home league fixture with Bedford on Friday is in serious doubt. They are eighth in the table, having won four matches since August, and would have fancied their chances of making the end-of-season play-offs.
Meanwhile, there was a smidgen of positive news for rugby in the Midlands when Billy McGinty, the backs and defence coach at Worcester, agreed a new contract keeping him at Sixways until 2012.