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Rugby

07th Jun 2023

Declan Kidney, Paddy Jackson and more seeking new clubs as London Irish goes bust

Patrick McCarry

Another raft of rugby players and club staff will be desperately seeking employment over the coming weeks and months.

In the end, for a club that celebrates a 125-year anniversary in October, the hammer dropped for London Irish staff and supporters in just 70 words on the club website.

‘The club can confirm that London Irish has received correspondence from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to confirm suspension for the 2023/24 season,’ the statement began.

‘The suspension will result in the club being unable to compete in the Gallagher Premiership, Premiership Rugby Cup, and Heineken Champions Cup throughout the 2023/24 campaign. The club continues to remain in active discussions with the RFU as to any circumstances that may result in the suspension being lifted.’

While some involved in the club were still hoping to be bailed or bought out, the sad reality is London Irish are heading down the same dark, uncertain road as Wasps and Worcester Warriors. In the space of a horrible season for English rugby, three Premiership sides went to the wall, ceased to be in their current entities and will now have to fight their way back to the top table. One or two may never get there.

On Wednesday, London Irish owner Mark Crossan confirmed the club had gone into administration. He stated:

‘My focus is now on working with the appointed administrator and I hope that the club will come out of administration as quickly as possible.’

Football absolutely dominates the UK sporting landscape, so just imagine Arsenal, Wolves and Aston Villa all went bust, could not afford to pay salaries and debtors and were dropped from the Premier League and domestic cup competitions. There would be an uproar and MPs would be pressed to get involved to try save the day.

The fact that this news was dwarfed, in the UK, by the PGA Tour deal with the Saudis and Liverpool buying Alexis Mac Allister tells you, in part, what rugby is dealing it. It also explains why clubs that could not sell out their stadiums on a regular basis could not afford to have 40+ players in their senior squad with many earning hundreds of thousands each year. Nothing against the players, it is just that rugby in England was not sustainable and three clubs have paid a dear price. More could follow.

London IrishLondon Irish Head Coach, Les Kiss celebrates with Paddy Jackson after the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match against Exeter Chiefs at Gtech Community Stadium. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Every London Irish player for themselves

Hot on the heels of that London Irish statement – with many of the club employees finding out only minutes before it was posted to the club website – the English RFU gave their take on matters.

“This is desperately sad news for everyone who is part of the London Irish community as well as all the players, fans, staff and volunteers for whom this club means so much,” said RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney.

He added: “We will be working closely with London Irish to confirm what the future of rugby at the club looks like. With regret, this will not be in any league next season.”

If the players and coaches from the club were not already scrambling by then, they went into overdrive around 7pm on Tuesday.

Paddy Jackson and Henry Arundell will be on the move

The hottest prospect on the London Irish playing roster is 20-year-old fullback Henry Arundell. The England international had an excellent, explosive 2022/23 and looks set for a spot in Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad.

Earlier this year, England captain Owen Farrell compared the young back to World Cup-winning legend Jason Robinson:

https://twitter.com/chjones9/status/1623457461591212033

Rob Simmons (Clermont) and Ollie Hassell-Collins (Leicester Tigers) were already confirmed as some of the 15 player departures, along with former Leinster scrumhalf Hugh O’Sullivan (Newcastle Falcons) before the club’s demise was announced, on Tuesday.

Other players that should be picked up are Will Joseph, Ollie Hoskins, Ben White and Ben Loader. Adam Coleman and Augustin Creevy are both class players but would be on the top-tier of the club’s salary scale so may have to take cuts to find gainful employment elsewhere. Creevy is 38 but can still get about the pitch. He might be a short-term option for an Irish province or French side while the World Cup rages on.

Paddy Jackson was one of the Premiership’s better out-halves, last season, yet it remains unlikely he would return to Ireland. There is still a lot of ill sentiment surrounding both Jackson and his former Ulster teammate Stuart Olding. Jackson and Olding, along with two of their friends, were acquitted of rape and sexual assault after a trial at Belfast Crown Court in 2018 yet had their playing contracts revoked soon after. At the time, the IRFU stated:

‘In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity.’

Jackson moved to Perpignan after his contract was revoked but stayed only one season and joined London Irish in 2019. Jack Cooke and Caolan Englefield are two other Irish players on the Exiles’ books.

Also looking for new opportunities in the rugby world will be Director of Rugby Declan Kidney, the former Munster and Ireland head coach, coach Les Kiss and assistant coach Declan Danaher.

One must feel for the club’s wider staff, too, as they face into the summer months uncertain if a career in rugby is sustainable any more. With three top clubs hitting the skids in the space of just over seven months, the job market is flooded and every other side will be watching their budgets like a hawk to avoid a similar fate.

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