Ulster were scheduled to play Rotherham last Friday (a bad case of Friday the Thirteenth) at Don Valley, their South Yorkshire home. However, Ulster had no idea of the highwire act going on behind the scenes at Rotherham.
Having done brilliantly to reach the top echelon of the English club game, they found themselves unable to compete with the big boys, either financially or on the playing field. They lost all 22 of their matches in the Zurich Premiership last season in being relegated. The financial implications were grim, the prospect of Division One rugby leaving them with a #1 million drop in projected income for the forthcoming season and reliant on securing new investment.
On Thursday, they launched a legal challenge to Worcester's inclusion in the Premiership next season on the grounds that they don't meet the entry criteria and that therefore the decision to admit them was illegal.
But their great white hope lay in concluding a deal with a South African consortium that was interested in getting their hands on an English franchise. The deal involved the club playing one more season as Rotherham, before moving to Greater London and playing under the moniker London Tribe. Death by another name perhaps, but nonetheless an escape from the financial meltdown facing them.
The players' wages are two weeks behind and it is reported that players that left at the end of the season are still owed monies. They had taken their case to the Professional Rugby Players Association and considered quitting training. The deal would also protect their jobs for a season.
However, the deal required the sanction of the RFU before it could proceed. And in a conference call at 3pm on Friday, the RFU Management Board refused to play ball. They didn't take kindly to having its club members use their status to franchise out the club. They didn't oppose the club being bought, but they drew the line at moving it from Yorkshire to London. They had come down with a similar decision last month when it was proposed that Wakefield would move to either Oxford or London. Furthermore, they set a deadline of 12pm Monday by which time the club had to have concluded a deal with a new buyer or it would be put out of business. Given that the South Africans were not for turning on the issue of moving to London, it left the South Yorkshire outfit up the proverbial creek.
Meanwhile Ulster were busily preparing for the first game of the season under their new coach, Mark McCall. At 5.30 pm, McCall received a text message informing him that the fixture would have to be cancelled, leaving Ulster high and dry and counting the cost of the trip.
A rather shoddy end to a dream that flared and died. Be careful what you wish for.