Peter Bills: Worcester are no great loss

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The Independent Online

Worcester's catastrophic relegation from the Guinness Premiership proves two points.

Men who invent heating boilers are not necessarily the best qualified to run rugby clubs and you cannot ignore warning signals before your eyes. Worcester have been guilty on both counts and pay the price. Frankly, they're no great loss to the Premiership.

Worcester have been in the top flight of English rugby for the past six years and for most of that time they've done little except scuff along in a perennial relegation battle. The last three seasons, out of 12 teams in the league, they've finished 11th, 10th and 11th. And even the season before that, 2005/6, although they finished 8th in the table, they were only one win better off than Bristol, who ended up 11th of 12.

Off the field, the structures at Worcester's Sixways ground have been transformed. New stands and spanking new facilities are the envy of countless clubs in both England and even France. But all the luxury lounges, popular bars and excellent indoor training facilities in the world aren't worth discussing if the team isn't any good. And Worcester haven't been much good for years.

Owner Cecil Duckworth might have made millions from inventing a heating boiler which he sold to Bosch for a fortune. But he's been far less successful at running a rugby club and I suspect one reason for that has been that he didn't have great roots in the game, didn't understand it properly.

Now I'm perfectly sure you can come up with a few obscure examples where wealthy owners who didn't know one end of a rugby ball to another have been eminently successful at taking on a club and making it successful. I can myself – Mourad Boudjallel of Toulon, who have had such a great season they are in the semi-finals of the French Championship.

But then, Toulon had a long history as one of the premier clubs of France, before their decline in the 1990s. Worcester have never been one of the great clubs of England.

Furthermore, Boudjallel concentrated on the team, not the ground. He brought in some immensely talented rugby people to help him get the club back on its feet, the likes of Tana Umaga, Joe van Niekerk, Philippe Saint-Andre, Tim Lane, Victor Matfield, George Gregan, Anton Oliver and myriad others.

Since Saint-Andre took over last summer, Toulon have been on a fast, upward curve which could yet take them all the way to the French title next month.

By contrast, Worcester have made some extraordinary purchases. They blew a fortune recruiting the excellent but ageing Australian full-back Chris Latham, plus the former New Zealand wing Rico Gear. Latham's salary was reputed to be £325,000 a season while Gear wouldn't have gone there for much less than £160,000. Two other New Zealanders, lock Greg Rawlinson and centre Sam Tuitupou, were also expensively lured to Sixways Stadium as well as the usual batch of Samoans and Tongans.

To back up these so-called 'stars', well, there wasn't very much. Gloucester decided wing Marcel Garvey and fly half Willie Walker would never make it years ago but Worcester thought otherwise. Predictably, both were involved as Worcester lost at Leeds on Sunday to go tumbling out of the top flight.

I suppose we have to put the blame for most of these poor signings at the door of Mike Ruddock, the club's Director of Rugby. Presumably, he got the players he wanted, although clearly within a certain budget. For the fact is, Worcester under Duckworth certainly haven't spent like Toulon under Boudjallel, on the other side of the English Channel.

Of course, the salary cap in France is that much greater but sometimes, it isn't the star players you recruit that make so much difference. After all, if you are building a wall but overlook the importance of the cement to ensure its stability, it'll come crashing down around you. That is, in a nutshell, I suspect Worcester's problem.

For example, the under-rated lock Kris Chesney left Saracens at the end of last season and went to France. He might have been little known outside England but Saint-Andre, the former Sale Sharks Rugby Director, knew all about him and snapped him up. And this season, Chesney has been outstanding for Toulon. Might he not have done a similar job for Worcester if the English club had asked him?

Appointing the right people is crucial in running rugby clubs. With enough money, anyone can go out and make big money buys but it's the ordinary foot soldiers, the back-up people behind the stars who invariably decide whether clubs are ultimately successes or failures.

Worcester have been stuck in the same mess for years now, and they did nothing about it. So they've paid the price and must go down to rebuild and think again.