Troubled Premiership club Worcester are braced for a player exodus after a company that holds their contracts was wound up at a court hearing on Wednesday.
British tax authorities are pursuing the club for unpaid tax of about £6-million ($6.8m).
Worcester are in administration but the company that holds player and some staff contracts, WRFC Players Ltd, a subsidiary of WRFC Trading Ltd, had been operational and was the subject of the action from HM Revenue and Customs.
Judge Nicholas Briggs made an order winding up WRFC Players Ltd in the High Court.
Ted Hill, Ollie Lawrence, Fergus Lee-Warner and Valery Morozov have already joined rival Premiership club Bath on loan and others will follow them out the door having become unemployed, along with members of staff.
Worcester had employed Springbok centre Francois Venter, Durban-born scrumhalf Gareth Simpson and Scotland-capped wing Duhan van der Merwe.
Because they had not been paid for September, all players would have been able to leave on 14 October, meaning that liquidation has brought their departure forward by nine days.
The administrators are seeking a buyer for WRFC Trading Ltd and are talking to two consortiums, but any successful takeover will bring with it the urgent task of rebuilding the squad.
Worcester’s matches against Gloucester and Harlequins were cancelled on Monday and while they remain suspended from all competitions, they could be restored to the Premiership if a buyer is found by the middle of this month.
No definite decision on relegation has been made by the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, although the chances of continuing in the top flight appear remote considering the lack of time to agree on terms with new investors.
The Rugby Players Association (RPA) called for “lessons to be learnt” from the situation at Worcester.
“The RPA is extremely saddened to hear of the liquidation of WRFC Players Limited,” a statement read.
“We stand with all Worcester employees. Our immediate thoughts are with all the players and staff who have lost their jobs today due to this terrible situation.
“We will continue to support our members in all ways that we can throughout this hugely challenging and difficult time, as we have done since it became clear that the club was in financial trouble.”
© Agence France-Presse
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