Worcester Warriors change name and drop leagues amid anger at RFU | Worcester

The Rugby Football Union has been accused of blocking a rescue of the Warriors by Jim O’Toole, the head of the consortium preferred by the club’s trustees, Begbies Traynor. O’Toole claims his joint venture had no choice but to bypass the conditions set by the RFU to play in next season’s Championship, resulting in him losing the Worcester Warriors name and business.

Instead, the joint venture plans to rebrand as Sixways Rugby through a merger with Stourbridge Rugby Club’s first XV, bottom of National League 2 West, and aims to reach the higher reaches of the league structure through promotion. The new team would play at Sixways Stadium. This is subject to a vote by Stourbridge RFC members on Friday and, if successful, approval of the name change and relocation by the RFU.

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O’Toole plans to challenge the RFU through the courts if necessary. “No investor was going to sign the terms they were demanding,” he told the Guardian. “We fully understand that they have to have the proper procedures. We believe they have come a long way to make up for past mistakes that happened on their watch. Now they make it very difficult for organizations like us to come in and invest in the game.”

The trustees accepted O’Toole’s offer, which means the £16.4m of public money owed by the previous owners to DCMS will be recouped through the sale of Worcester’s stake in Premier Rugby and the new joint venture’s investment. Other debts will also be covered, but those owed to employees and other rugby creditors of the old club will not be covered, sparking anger among those who worked and played without insurance or, in some cases, payment at the start of this season.

The RFU argued that O’Toole’s consortium did not provide sufficient details of its bid to pass the suitability test. “The required information has been requested repeatedly,” they said, “and deadlines have been extended to give the best possible opportunity for this to happen.”

O’Toole claims his investors passed the test but did not accept the conditions attached, which included RFU approval of all applications for planning permission, commercial development and lending. “The RFU says we didn’t pass the test,” he said, “but we were told on Friday evening that we had and would be getting a letter of participation. But when the deal came, it had all these clauses that we just couldn’t accept. What the RFU are furious about is that we stood up to them on those clauses.”

The Stourbridge first XV are semi-professional and in tier four of the English league, two promotions away from the Championship but likely to be three by the end of this season. The Stourbridge Lions, effectively their second XV, play at level seven. The plan would see the Lions become Stourbridge’s first XV, which would be a return to amateur status. The current first XV would split off to become Sixways Rugby and relocate to Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.

“The RFU was clear that its priority was to enable Worcester Warriors to play in the Championship and Worcester Warriors Women in the Premier 15s in a sustainable way,” the RFU said. “The RFU will now consult with the local rugby community about the proposed relocation of Stourbridge RFC and the name change. Our priority is to ensure that the best interests of rugby and the rugby community are maintained.”

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