Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


SRU Looking for move into RFU Territory at Worcester

© Scottish Rugby Blog

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.

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.

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.

43 Responses

  1. Begs the question that if the SRU can do this then why not the RFU? In any case, living in Worcester and a Scotland supporter, I’m keen on the idea. Its a friendly club but then it does spend a lot of time losing at the moment which isn’t that great on psyche. Not really what you want to teach potential internationals! Having a base to test players against the rigour of the English league though could allow for hardening up of some players as per R. Jackson et al :)

  2. Let’s say this is actively being considered;wouldn’t it require approval at an agm/egm?
    Seeking outside investment in Glasgow or Edinburgh apparently did. Or do the SRU bye-laws only require approval to receive money rather than spend it?!

  3. There are way more questions than answers at the moment, but probably worth considering a few points:

    1. We badly need more avenues for our young players into professional rugby. At the moment, there are decent players who never will get the chance due to us only having 2 professional teams.

    2. It seems very fanciful that a third pro team in Scotland would ever be viable.

    3. In the longer term, The Scotland team does need a wider player base. It also takes way to much out of the two current sides to give up so many international players when they play. This means than they will have bigger squads than they can utilise outside of those periods and players will lack meaningful game time.

    4. The Super 6 may in time address the gap between professional rugby and the Scottish club game again giving the pro sides access to those players when they need them.

    5. Worcester is an established club, with a fan base and decent facilities. The previous attempt along thse lines with London Scottish largely failed because LS could offer little in return for the investment. They were never going to be a premiership club and struggled even to provide decent facilities to the players that went down there.

    7. There are a lot of dual qualified players in the English system, who might be keen on keeping their options open in such a set up.

    6. Opportunities such as this may not come along very often!

    It is all speculation at the moment as neither Worcester or the SRU have even confirmed that a dialogue has taken place. It will be good to hear the details and the plans, if there are any, come the time.

    Probably worth reserving judgement until them.

  4. I really hope this is not going to happen. I’d be overjoyed to be proved wrong but I really don’t see the point. Main problems:

    1. How much will it cost in the first place?

    2. They don’t make much/any profit now so why would they in the future. Relegation would quickly limit income massively.

    3. How do you find the players to significantly strengthen what has recently been a bit of a yo-yo club.

    The third one is the biggest, you either take all the best Scots which wrecks what we’re doing north of the border or you don’t in which case what’s the point as fringe Scots won’t be good enough and English or SH players defeat the purpose.

    I strongly, strongly believe that a third pro team north of the border is the way forward. I get all the fuss about starting it up etc and how the Reds and Borders failed. But I think you have to think that between five and ten years ago Glasgow and Edinburgh weren’t exactly setting the heather alight. It has taken the SRU a long, long time to ‘crack it’ with Glasgow now looking established and successful and with Edinburgh for the first time not a million miles behind.

    I really think that with the lessons learned from building two reasonably successful franchises and having two failed ones that with a proper case study and full commitment we could have a third pro team up here. Where? I don’t know but the academies are churning out increasingly good crops of players which with a increased sprinkling of SH talent and exiles returning could do the trick with the super six in theory producing players in the future as well. The new tram might spend the first few years competing with Zebre and getting gates of a couple thousand but you have to start somewhere if you’re building something new. And now is the time with our national team entering a period of rampant dominance (hopefully) which will boost interest.

  5. I don’t like this at all….Darien Scheme anyone?

    If it goes ahead and the team “fails” SRU will lose big time….and put Scottish Rugby back 10 years.

    Should a successful scots-focused club be established, the RFU will surely administrate them out of contention with quotas and rules.

    The RFU have NO interest in SRU success, at best they don’t care, at worst they have an active interest in SRU failure.

    I don’t see why we would trust them to act “fairly” in respect to our assets. It’s not like the RFU have a proud record of open-minded and generous behavior.

  6. I think a 3rd pro team in scotland is 4-5 years down the line still and would probaly have to be based in glasgow also.

    Populations in cities are glasgow close to 600,000
    Edinburgh next with 450k
    then after that the bext best thing is aberdeen on 200 k and dundee on 150 k.
    A second pro team in glasgow would make sence population wise and its the only place selling out atm.
    to build in inter-city rivalry makes sence and its an easier place to persuade players to go to.

    To expect if ur selling out 5000 at best in aberdeen or dundee and taking 1/40 or 1/30 of the population to watch seems unrealistic to me.

    the super 6 and building that to grow crowds of mabey 500-1000 for each super club seems the next best thing to me and should allow any outstanding talent to get into pro teams.
    This and it will be a heck of alot less of a cash drain that building a full pro team in aberdeen or dundee.

    For me it makes sence to have a super 6 team in each of the locations basely purely of population and potential to bring in supporters.
    This includes the smaller locations around these names also.

    Aberdeen -209,000
    Dundee – 157,000
    Motherwell – 125,000
    Falkirk – 100,000
    Edinburgh- (tied in with pro team academys and some top club players)
    Glasgow- with the same as above

    Those 6 to me make sence and would stop this nonsence with the clubs that dont want to partake.

    After the first few years of development in these regions i believe other high population areas can be brought into this. and potentially some of the big names in the BT premiership.

    I dont expect the standard of the super 6 to be any higher than national 3-2 to begin with but i think as time passes and the effort gets put in they will be around bt premiership standard and progress from their.

    1. Worcestershire has a population of 560k and is a small county.You can pass through it in less that 20 mins on the M5. The city has around 100k population. It bounds rugby strongholds of Birmingham , Hereford shire, Gloucestershire and is ideally located to draw disgruntled welsh across the border. The ground holds 12.5k supporters and is fit for purpose, with a loyal support, it is always sold out. I think you may find this will have a faster return on investment than taking a gamble on a new brand in Scotland.

      The RFU needs Worcester in the championship more than it needs to keep Scotland out so they will welcome them being strengthened initially.

      1. Pish. Worcester’s average home crowd this season is roughly 7000, from a high of 7700 and a low of 6500 – hardly a “12,500 sell-out.”

        This club would be a money pit, and, in any case, trying to take it under SRU control would require a breach of RFU rules. I don’t see the sense in this, unless it is a diversion – from what I know not.

  7. Interesting idea. I have long said that we need to grow the playing base and involve more schoolkids. That seems to be moving in the right direction with the Academy structure. Would Worcester generate more quality Scottish players than a third pro team? I’m not sure, but why invest in either when one of our Pro teams plays on a club ground, the other on a Municipal ground? Surely, Glasgow need a bigger stadium as it is bursting at the seams on match day. There is a real stir around the city and the country about Glasgow and the national side. The SRU need to ccapitalise on that. Edinburgh play in a very affluent city with many rugby playing schools. Cockerill has done very well thus far but the team and fans again deserve their own stadium, which builds identity and will attract fans. I’d rather see our 2 Pro clubs with bespoke stadia rather than this. Not that it is a bad idea, but a matter of priority.

    1. My own view is this is better. I see the club scene as being hard to harmonize and get one standard. It is also run by people with local interest who will not think national. I think a third team has no economies of scale in Scotland.

      We need a place where we can port academy players right now and give them experience. We now have talented players coming through and they are not getting enough game time. This is that third team and I would argue it is exactly where we want it to be, right in the heart of England and next to the Welsh. The Glasgow second string have taken us to 10 out if 10 yet we don.t have regular places for them.

      1. But Glasgow needs those ‘second string’ players for when others are away on National Team duty. That kind of kills your argument. Unless you propose we strip the two Pro teams of their strength in depth?

  8. Media reports suggest that the club is currently losing around £5.3m per year – around the same as the budget for each of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is fair to assume a third pro club would equally cost around £5m if situated in Scotland.

    It is unclear what those Worcester losses consist of, certainly they will be losing cash but is that entire loss likely to be cash? Others will be more qualified to say, but my limited understanding of accountancy in sports franchises suggests not. Equally, the SRU may feel that they can reduce the overheads for some aspects, such as ticketing, maintenance etc. Finally, the SRU probably feel they could also attract players on lower salaries than other English clubs with the promise of international rugby (with the associated image rights, sponsorship, playing fee and appropriate player management opportunities). Altogether, the SRU presumably feel they can operate a Premiership level English club for significantly less, or on a more sustainable basis, than they can do for a third pro club in Scotland.

    Feel free to disagree with me, but I think it’s pretty hard to argue that Dodson is anything other than extremely financially astute, and given the remarkable turnaround of the international team finances and performances, pro team finances and performances, sevens performances, women’s team finances and performances, men’s underage rep side performances and academy structures, I’m willing to give him a little bit of latitude on this one given we are all speculating with zero information.

    1. Dodson has indeed done a good job and has earned trust… do you trust the RFU though?

      I think it would need very clear guarantees around such things as english-player quotas, academy quotas, SQ status and availability for international comps (e.g. sevens)

    2. I don’t mean to bash the RFU….but I generally wouldn’t put my assets under a competitor’s care.

    3. I presume the SRU would seek pretty robust written assurances from the RFU before committing to closing a deal.

      I do agree with the general point made by numerous commentators in that I have no idea why the RFU would allow this if they can stop it, unless they feel the likely scenario is that Worcester completely cease to exist without this intervention.

      I presume the SRU would keep this as an entirely separate company rather than assume the debt, therefore they could fund it for a few years and if it doesn’t work, punt it or stick it into administration with little to no damage to the SRU long-term? The English structure is much more able to deal with administration or liquidation events than the Pro14 is, which means they could take a punt on this without risking their investments in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Perhaps this is a key consideration that is swaying the decision? Of course there would be huge reputational ramifications of such a situation and the fans would justifiably be livid.

  9. This is brilliant. I thought the SRU might have gone for Sharks who have had instability for a number if years. Sharks will always compete with league for support and players, Worcester is at the gateway to the west country and the Welsh valleys. We are going toe to toe with the English and Welsh Unions in a region where there is a lot of grass roots rugby within a short drive. I know the west country very well, Rugby is a religion and the beer is drinkable. This is a masterstroke if it comes off.

  10. Finding it quite hard to see sense in investment in a semi-pro 6 and takeover of an Aviva side simultaneously. Can the SRU really afford this as a medium to long term enterprise?
    I get all the comment about the size of the south west/west England rugby hinterland serving Worcester. But what about the massive hinterland that is London and its surrounds? Meaning, what about London Scottish as the third de facto or even de jure third pro team? Is there bad blood between the SRU and LS that gets in the way of this?
    I think many expatriate Scots like myself would make the effort to get along more often to support LS if it were effectively our third pro side. Their shared stadium with Richmond is quite small it must be said, though it would almost certainly attract plenty of support from Scots in the south east if it were the base of a third out and out Scots pro side, as opposed to the current semi-pro outfit.

    1. Isn’t part of the issue that LS don’t play in the AP? So if the purpose of this endeavour is to give more SQ players exposure to top-flight rugby, it doesn’t really work. It’s tough to see what strategy this acquisition supports.

      1. Yes, I see your points. And, as MikeL said, there is a huge gap in playing standards and facilities between all the Aviva and nearly all the Championship clubs, so a beefed up LS would need to earn promotion to the Prem or switch to the Pro 14/15 to guarantee playing at the highest level of club rugby and supplying the required standard of players to the Test squad. Still, the idea of going regularly to watch LS playing top clubs has its attractions, even if it’s a pipe-dream really.
        At least Worcester play Aviva week in week out. Unless they get relegated at some point.

    2. I was under the impression that the SRU had well and truly burned its bridges with LS, certainly going by the BBC reports this time last year.

  11. I’d go see LS if they were a third pro side but they are not the warriors. I wonder what their fans think of the prospect of them being used as a feeder for another nation.

    1. Yes, we flirted with the SRU. Didn’t work. We basically are a traditional club side. Doubt we are hugely bothered about being a ‘feeder side’, if the guys come and play, and are good enough to step up, fair play to them. Not always for Ingerlund – Tomas Francis being a case in point. The chasm between the two top divisions in England rule out any thoughts of stepping up, ground, finance, blah, blah. We DO like to see open running rugby, we do not depend wholly or mainly on the rolling maul, unlike some other Championship clubs.

      Not pleased with the performances this year, on paper we have a better squad than last year. That said, we only have to finish higher up than one other side.

      Transitional season, hope we can stabilise next year with the fully pro / semi pro mix.

      1. I still think the link could and should work, and is beneficial for Scottish development up until there is a better way.
        I’m really struggling to believe the Worcester deal will actually come off, and it’s a debate whether the Super Six will provide a better pathway- time will tell. In the meantime there is a provenance for LS player and coach development which has been pretty successful. I’m not of course claiming LS are totally responsible for the recent progress of the likes of Dalzial and George Horne’s development – but LS have played a part.

        Incidentally Mikelinds, I disagree about this season’s squad. I think Lydon, Harries, Hunter – Hill, Fergusson and Miller would walk into the team, and I also think we miss Bartle, although he’s currently getting splinters on Jersey’s bench. Chewie is a good import, and Mills is very reliable – although I think he’s off soon ? But we are where we are.

        Summary of season so far – 65% really good running and handling rugby, 20% outgrunted, 15% – what the *$&*$&*& did you do that for !? :)

  12. I don’t know how this would work. AVIVA clubs rely so heavily on their academy credits and ENglish qualified status payments. If we are filling it with Scots those go

    1. We’d also be fined for releasing Scots for training camps outside the World Rugby windows – as Bath have just been fined for releasing Faletau for Wales’ 4th autumn test.

      1. We don’t play outside the mainstream international windows, do we? Thought only Wales did that because their Union is desperate for cash.

      2. No but we do have training camps outside the official release dates which is why often the Scotland squad will be together without England and France based players.

  13. I’d say doing something really out there is best. Like a Scottish Pro 14 side based in London. There’s more interest than ever in pro 14 and there’s ex pat communities to provide away support when Leinster etc come to town. Take over Scottish and pull them out of the English system

    1. As I recall recent posts on this came up with barriers such as the owner letting go, minimum crowds even on a good day and significant ground improvement . No idea if the Pro 14 could cope with another side ? Worcester is a going concern albeit a new model needs to be established.

    2. We’ve been here before. The supposed diaspora that will come is a myth. Pro 14, well that would make it 16 to be rational, think they are looking at US and / or Canada.
      Doubt LS have the appetite, certainly don’t have the facilities. I expect them to sit and see out the latest mind-numbing exercise from the RFU about League structuring, before making any plans other than to cut out the mindless on pitch stupidity that is jeopardising our existence at level 2 England.

      FWISW, I can’t see any logic in Wuss.

      Dodson has done a huge job, debt massively reduced, a structure in place, albeit very limited.

      IMO, get the Super 6 up and running, see what effect that has first.

      Let’s not throw away cash we don’t have.

  14. Is it possible for the SRU to buy out Worcester, Take them out of the aviva without any say from RFU aand bring them into a pro 14/15 ?

    And if this was all to somehow happen would we then be bound to international window fines for camps etc and english player quotas.

    1. Why would any Worcester fans continue to support the club???? It is a barmy idea.

      Also RFU would have to sanction as Worcester are in their territorial authority and are RFU members.

      LS was slightly different as they have been SRU members for over a hundred years so there is at least some justifiable logic, but Worcester – ain’t going to happen.

      1. Just been talking with some Worcester fans and they know nothing about it .News to them, However :

        *They are fed up paying £50 a game and watching poor quality rugby .
        *They are used to being beaten but feel they are not being entertained.
        *They accept something needs to be done as the status quo is not working for them.

        As an aside , do we think the SRU have snatched an opportunity or has owning an RFU side been considered for some time ! I don’t believe this is a new plan , I think they are just getting closer to seriously considering it.

        Do I they will publish their negotiation strategy ? No

        Do I think it will happen ? 50/50

        We just dont have enough facts and why should we .

        I think harmonising clubs into a super 6 is a tough gig and a different money sink. I would avoid that , too many self interests to manage out.

      2. Super 6 may or may not be a good idea. At least it’s putting money into the Scottish game and not propping up a failing English club. No one seems to have explained what value we get that is worth the £5-6m a year that seems to be bandied about.

      3. I can’t imagine the RFU will allow us to park our tanks on their lawn.

        This is a poor idea! Latest from the Jungle is it’s a non starter. If so – GOOD.

        We look like there’s a fairly harmonised approach at home. Give the 6 time to buy into that and let’s see where we go.

        I would rather see a contuined reduction in our debt, and eventually a war chest, rather than wasting money on something like this. I do hope we can find a way to a third fully Pro side. I doubt this is it.

        The Aberdonian in me I suppose.

  15. I do not think Worcester needs to be a failing club, Like all things , it is cyclical , the secret is to buy a business at its lowest, add your value and sell it when it is high. After all ,that was what Jed McCrory was thinking of doing. If not the SRU then who ?

    1. The SRU is not a hedgefund with a remit to turn around failing foreign clubs. That is not it’s purpose.

  16. Bit of a joke in some respects, bit entertaining to see Dodson park his tank (s) firmly on the RFU turf.

    Doubt this was serious, sending a signal perhaps.

    McKie would have vetoed the cost of the stamp. Joking aside, we may not all like Dodson, or agree with some of the calls, but we are in a much, much better place.

    It’s about time that these guys got a bit more credit.

    (Ducks as torrent of odds and ends follows)!

    Can we have a separate thread on this – sure there will be multiple and voluble statements made!

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