Gloucester, the high-fliers of the Zurich Premiership, are hoping that the collapse of the TWR Group, the motor sport empire owned by Tom Walkinshaw, will not clip the wings of the rugby club.
"Gloucester RFC is independent of TWR,'' Ken Nottage, the managing director at Kingsholm, said. "They are two entirely separate companies. The only link between them is through their owner.''
In the figure of the embattled Walkinshaw it remains a hugely significant link. Walkinshaw's problems surfaced last year when the Arrows Formula One racing outfit, of which he was team principal, ran out of money. He lost more strings to his bow when the TWR Group, which had 500 employees and a turnover of £140m, went into receivership last Thursday.
"When I see Tom it will be one of the items for discussion,'' Nottage said. "Am I alarmed? That's an interesting question. I'm shocked and disappointed for Tom. I'm not familiar with the business of TWR and wouldn't expect to be. I have no indication that what has happened will affect Gloucester.''
Nevertheless, when Walk-inshaw, the chairman of Gloucester, meets the players at Kingsholm this week, they will again be asked to take a pay cut of between five and 10 per cent despite the fact that they are top of the Premiership, in the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup and virtually every home match is a sell-out.
"Nothing is being imposed,'' Nottage said. "There's a nec-essity to balance the books. We have got a hole that needs filling and Tom has said to the players, 'Can you help me?' It's a simple business process. Talk of the players going on strike is absolute nonsense. I have no indication of how they will respond but if they say no we'll look at other ways.''
Gloucester claim there is a shortfall in central funding from the commercial agreement with the Rugby Football Union (denied by the RFU) of £500,000 to each club. "The forecast was £2.3m but what we expect could be down to £1.8m,'' Nottage added. "We either have to spend less or increase income.''
The crisis has been exacerbated by the break in league rugby caused by the Six Nat-ions. "Our business is closed for seven weeks which means no income,'' Nottage said.