London Irish have been suspended from the Gallagher Premiership following a failure to provide financial guarantees for next season.
Founded 125 years ago, the Exiles’ future is grim as their demise follows former Premiership rivals Wasps and Worcester entering administration earlier this term.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of Irish’s highs and lows.
History-making cup of joy
Irish won the first major trophy in their history when they lifted English rugby’s knockout cup by crushing Northampton 38-7 at Twickenham in 2002. The Saints fielded 14 internationals, headed by the likes of Matt Dawson, Paul Grayson and Ben Cohen, but they had no answer to Irish’s brilliance as wing Justin Bishop and centre Geoff Appleford claimed try doubles. It was the second-biggest winning margin in a final during the competition’s 34-year existence as the Exiles followed previous winners Gloucester, Coventry, Bedford, Gosforth, Leicester, Bristol, Bath, Harlequins, Saracens, Wasps and Newcastle.
Making a mark in Europe
Although they did not win silverware, Irish certainly made their presence felt in European rugby union’s premier club competition – the Heineken Cup – in 2008. Irish had never previously reached the tournament’s knockout phase, but they cruised through the pool stage by winning five of their six games and scoring 25 tries. French challengers Perpignan were defeated in the quarter-finals, which secured a last-four clash against tournament heavyweights Toulouse at Twickenham. Irish went down 21-15 but a 30,000 crowd looked on, with the Exiles confirming a place at Europe’s top table.
State-of-the-art training facility
Irish moved into a new £12million training complex – the Hazelwood Centre in Sunbury-on-Thames – on July 1, 2014. The 63-acre site was converted from a nine-hole golf course and was four times the size of Irish’s previous training facility. Comprising 17 pitches, including five full-size ones that also featured an artificial surface, it soon attracted widespread interest. Hazelwood was used as a training base by Wales and Fiji during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, while its facilities have also attracted teams like the New York Jets and Leeds Rhinos.
Relegation from the Premiership
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) May 1, 2016
Irish lost their status as a club in English rugby’s top flight when they were relegated at the end of the 2015-16 campaign. The Exiles won only four of their 22 league games, finishing seven points behind 11th-placed Newcastle. It was the first time since the Premiership began in 1997 that they had been demoted. Chief executive Bob Casey told Irish’s official website: “This is a sad day in the history of this great club. Relegation was not part of our plans but we have to be honest, as hard as the players and management have worked, we haven’t been good enough this season.”
The darkest day of all
Burdened by debts of around £30million, Irish failed to meet an extended Rugby Football Union deadline of Tuesday for either a proposed takeover by an American consortium to be completed or for owner Mick Crossan to prove he could finance Irish for the entire 2023-24 season. All staff must also have been paid the outstanding 50 per cent of wages owed for May, while the club faced an additional hit of an HM Revenue and Customs winding-up petition for unpaid tax. Nine months after the Premiership season started with 13 teams, three have now been lost.
Star names to depart?
A seemingly inevitable accompaniment to Irish’s Premiership suspension will be key players heading through the exit door. Irish have previously flourished by developing one of the most impressive and prolific academies in English rugby, nurturing internationals like Anthony Watson, Alex Corbisiero and Topsy Ojo. That trend has continued through players such as 20-year-old England Test players Henry Arundell and Will Joseph, with Cardiff Met product Tom Pearson, who was last month named Premiership breakthrough player of the season, another richly-talented performer. A significant squad break-up looms.