Worcester Warriors suspended: Options now for Premiership Rugby season

Worcester Warriors suspended Future is in doubt for the club as they missed deadline

The Worcester Warriors have been suspended from all competitions with immediate effect. This was the result of news coming yesterday that the Worcester Warriors failed to meet their 5 pm BST deadline to show clear evidence they had a long-term ability to meet their financial obligations.

Soon after this news broke that the Warriors have now been placed in administration. This creates problems for both the club and the league for both this season and the seasons ahead. Here we take the time to look at some of those options.

Worcester Warriors suspended from 2022/23 Premiership

Premiership regulations apply ‘Automatic relegation’ follows

This does seem the most likely option. The regulations of the Gallagher Premiership state that a club going into administration faces automatic relegation. This is unless the Warriors can prove that administration occurred as a result of factors outside of their control. As it stands Worcester is only suspended and so it has some time to potentially argue this case.

However, they face two major obstacles:

  • First, is the fact that it is the consensus that the Warriors’ issues are a result of poor management. COVID-19 has therefore only served to speed up the process

  • Second issue for Prem Rugby is that the Wasps hired an administrator in the last week and although the club has yet to go formally into administration, should that happen then the Coventry-based club has a much stronger argument that COVID-19 is the reason for this unfortunate situation.

This is not to say that both clubs could see themselves relegated. But if that were to happen, the fragile state of Premiership Rugby could topple past the point of no return. On top of this, the question of who replaces the two clubs becomes a salient point. In consideration, there are a couple of potential solutions to this question:

Where to from here? Promoting from the Championship

If the Warriors and Wasps both see themselves relegated, the simplest option is to promote from the championship. Once again though this comes with further complicated questions. Last season, the Gallagher Premiership was expanded to 13 teams as Saracens were promoted and no club was relegated following the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.

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Additionally, while both Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster Knights applied to be eligible to play in the Premiership should they be promoted, both requests were denied. This decision was followed by an announcement by Simon Massie-Taylor, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, that promotion and relegation would return to the league. Subsequently, earlier this month requirements to be promoted were relaxed which gives teams a realistic shot at gaining promotion.

If just one team is relegated this is a simple solution provided that the winning team meets these new standards. However, if both teams are relegated, does just one team come up and we return to a 12-team league? Or do two teams get promoted and we continue with the 13-team format? Moreover, what if no championship side is still able to meet these new criteria?

Possibility: Welsh sides joining the Premiership

An alternative solution could be found by bringing two Welsh sides into the Gallagher Premiership. This means that two potentially more competitive sides already full of international talent would be brought into the league.

Championship sides would need to invest a lot in new infrastructure and players to be competitive. Something the league will not want is for a side to get promoted, only for them to be beaten by 50 points every week. This could happen if a Championship side comes up unprepared. This is less likely to be the case if the Welsh regions are brought in instead due to the player caliber already available to the teams.

Yet again though, this is far from a simple solution. Bringing the Welsh leagues in would mean taking them out of the URC which could result in fines and litigation as a tournament that has gone through multiple rebranding phases over the past few years would be forced into another restructuring.

This, therefore, is a far less likely scenario, but could still yet be the solution to Worcester being suspended.

If Worcester resolves financial woes: points fine given by Premiership

Let us be positive, and believe that administration puts in place a new ownership group. In that situation, the Warriors would need to compile a playing roster that satisfies RFU so that they can complete the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership calendar and any requirements for European Professional Rugby Club fixtures.

With that return, any penalty will immediately impact that Club, their owners, and affect their supporter base. Yet the equation for those to accept is a points fine even though a new business model is presented for the governing body to appraise. So return to the league, but suffer a demonstrable points deduction [in the same way that Saracens were deducted 35 points for their salary cap breach in 2020].

This would only apply if Worcester were invited back. That might not be attractive to new owners, and mean the Warriors may sit out 2022/23. And that then changes the calendar for this Gallagher Premiership season. Aside from promoting another side, then the remaining 12 will opt to concede Bye rounds for a more fluid season that might even allow for a fairer balance of fixtures – to become a perfect balance of 12, or continue the imperfect 13-team format.


Potential Buyers for the Worcester Warriors

There was an outburst of emotional support for the impacted playing group (naturally). The call from their head coach to stand together was heeded, and the last round that the side competed in was a ‘wonderful show of support’ that is a fitting end to the conjecture. Now it is time to be mindful of potential buyers for the club.

It is reported that the Warriors have a buyer lined up. If a purchase is made then there is the possibility of reintroducing the suspended Worcester back into the league at a later date with a points deduction as their punishment. This would reduce many of the logistical issues faced as they would be able to play the games left on the fixture list upon their return.

Options for the Premiership regarding the Worcester Warriors

Rearranging the fixtures they missed during their period of suspension then becomes a possibility. In all likelihood, the Warriors would still finish bottom of the league and be relegated but it means that the matches played already are not meaningless and teams do not have points earned from playing Worcester removed from their total.

Yet again this has its issues though. If the Warriors return and need to catch up on fixtures it is going to require midweek fixtures. This means that not only will the Warriors have to put out multiple sides each week, but so will their opposition. In a time where we are supposedly cracking down on player welfare, is this the right thing to do?

Furthermore, it places these teams that have to rearrange the fixture in an unfair position when compared with those who have already played the Warriors as they will not have the full week’s worth of preparation for a game and may not be able to field the team they want to.

This may be the sacrifice required though to reintroduce Worcester. Another alternative upon their return could be that the Warriors’ games are awarded no points and Worcester is relegated regardless of performance. This though creates meaningless games that fans do not want to see. In addition, it places potentially unnecessary stress on the players’ bodies as they put themselves at the risk of injury for a game with nothing on the line.

Finally, could the decision be that every game Worcester is suspended for is canceled with the opposition receiving the full five points? A similar system to how results were decided at the beginning of the pandemic. This removes the need to play midweek games. Additionally, the Warriors’ opportunity to pick up points while they are suspended is gone. The problem is that teams that do not get these points and a rest week will feel unfairly disadvantaged.

Last Word on Rugby: Final thoughts

The overriding emotion here in the rugby community will be one of sadness and sympathy for the Warriors. Unfortunately, professional sport moves quickly though. A solution needs to be found at an equally quick rate or the league risks further financial issues. We also need to remember that this will not just affect the Gallagher Premiership. The Allianz Premier 15s, the Premiership Rugby Cup, the Allianz Cup, and the U18s Academy Cup are affected too.

This is also, unfortunately, not new to either rugby union or rugby league. The Toronto Wolfpack were kicked out of Super League in 2020 and their future is still in doubt. Hopefully, the Warriors are able to get it together, not just for their fans, but also for their players and staff as well.


Photo Credit: Worcester Warriors’ twitter account, September 26, 2022.