Like William Wallace on the march to York but without the unhappy ending for Mel Gibson (yet), Mark Dodson and the SRU bigwigs are rumoured to be eyeing a takeover at perennially struggling Worcester Warriors and a big move into the RFU’s backyard. You can read the article here, in turn based on a piece in the Rugby Paper. So a pinch of salt all round then. Still, it is an interesting idea to look at.
You wanted a third pro team, didn’t you?
This might be just the latest solution to be mooted, although it can be almost guaranteed that like Han Solo marching into the detention centre, it wasn’t what you had in mind.
This will please:
- The SRU, as it will make them feel powerful and influential outside of the central belt of Scotland. It might also allow them a little more control of players who wish to test themselves in the Premiership in terms of general player welfare and rest during Six Nations off weeks. It still won’t stop player drain to the clubs who have bigger budgets though. Being given an “in” to a deal at Worcester wouldn’t have stopped Finn Russell signing for Racing92.
- The SRU’s bank manager, who is likely to see a substantial increase in the Murrayfield overdraft if this goes wrong. If it goes right, there could be some income from TV rights and so on. Most of that should be ploughed back into the club though.
- Academy and semi-pro players looking for a route into the game outside the common pathways in Scotland. The exiles program will now have an identifiable head office.
- Worcester fans who look favourably on Scotland, and want a bit more stability behind their club – provided that the resources are in place. They will have to be for a team that are perennial bottom dwellers.
The benefit of player improvement will have to be the main positive outcome for Murrayfield, because profits will be hard to come by.
Three questions…how much initial outlay, do Worcester make a profit, and how much to cover RFU funding if English qualified player quotas not met?
— Allan Martin (@jocksaway74) December 11, 2017
This will not please:
- Borders/Caledonia fans who had just started looking at the Super 6 as their way back into life and will certainly feel that the SRU is not tending to their own garden while letting the dog do its business all over someone else’s.
- Any fans of the Super Six proposal who will now wonder if the SRU should instead be putting more of this money in that direction.
- London Scottish fans who thought they were the third pro team in terms of the SRU’s favour.
- The bigwigs at Twickenham who have – understandably – a mandate to develop the game and players in England, for England. It’s unlikely to add spice to the Calcutta Cup in February in any way, but the dinner afterwards might get feisty once the blazers go at it.
- It will also displease Worcester fans who aren’t all that bothered about Scotland and don’t want to see their club’s ambition sacrificed in favour of developing under-performing Scottish players. Although to be fair that happens at the moment anyway: see Alex Grove, Tom Heathcote, Dave Denton.
Be nice if they did it a little more discreetly. But its club with great infrastructure plus the Exiles program is strongest there. Smarter move than investing in London Scottish unfortunately
— Gareth Reynolds (@garethreynolds) December 11, 2017
Any move like this would, you would think, have to satisfy the club’s obligations to the RFU before it could act as a development tool for Scottish players. At this point a dive into the dungeons of the RFU legal section is useful. Feel free to correct us in the comments if you have a better legal mind than us and I’ve got anything wrong (not difficult). From the Premiership regulations:
A Club may not in any Match have in the match day 23 at any one time more than two Foreign Players.
A Club may not in any Match have in the match day 23 at any one time more than three Loan Players.
Bear with us here: a “Foreign Player” is a person who does not qualify as “Non-Foreign” Player.
A Non-Foreign Player is a person who, at the point that he is included in the Match Squad:
(a) can prove to the satisfaction of the RFU that he is entitled to the rights granted under Title IV, Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) or under the European Economic Area or of a state with which the European Community has entered into an agreement that includes directly effective provisions conferring equivalent rights of ondiscrimination against that state’s nationals within the European Union;
Note: A passport of a member state of the European Community will normally be accepted as evidence that a player is a Non-Foreign Player.
(b) can prove to the satisfaction of the RFU that pursuant to World Rugby Regulation 8.1 he is eligible to play for the senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team or the senior National Representative Sevens Team (as defined in World Rugby regulations) of a Rugby Union in membership of the European Union/European Economic Area; or
(c) has been selected for the England Senior XV, Next Senior XV or U20 XV or England’s National VII.
To be fair this document doesn’t always apply to Worcester who have made the odd visit to the Championship. There the rules on Foreign Players are much the same but you only have 22 players and in addition:
A Club may not play or select as a replacement or substitute in a Match more than 13 players from another club of which no more than three shall be Loan Players and the others (up to the maximum of 10) must be England Academy Players under the age of 24.
So at a basic level (Brexit complications notwithstanding) if they have a UK/EU passport and they’re signed for the club, then they’re ok. So in theory, they could field a team almost entirely of Scottish qualified players. But if they get relegated and for, example, need to bring in loan players to cover injuries, they are going to have to be mostly England Academy players.
The SRU would actually have to do even more to develop, at the minimum, dual-qualified players who could be seen to have a foot in both camps.
The players would have to be signed to Worcester, rather than loaned from Edinburgh, Glasgow or elsewhere. Which suggests that if player development is the aim then a large wage budget and a sharp legal mind on the board will be needed to keep the squad balance satisfactory to two masters. It means a serious long-term investment rather than a dip in and out deal like they had with London Scottish.
The club itself would also lose out on the potential revenue stream for not developing players for England and the English Academies as much as they do currently.
And yet because of the RFU rules, the SRU might not get much more of an outcome than they did at London Scottish – for a much larger investment.
There are many questions: will the SRU aim to replace the England Academy system currently in place with its own? Are kids growing up in Worcester to be denied their chance to represent the local club and instead fall under another RFU academy’s catchment, say Gloucester?
The RFU also has to approve any transfer of more than 20% of voting rights or share capital, and that’s even before World Rugby gets involved in the matter of a Union running a club under the regulation of another Union.
Even if the SRU confirm the rumours are not pie in the sky and announce that they do indeed have this intention, and have a plan in place: it will be far from a done deal.