London Irish are expected to be suspended from the Gallagher Premiership on Tuesday when the deadline to prove they have the finances needed to operate next season expires.
Irish have until 4pm to either complete a proposed takeover by an American consortium or for owner Mick Crossan to commit to the club for the entirety of the 2023-24 campaign.
As of Monday, the buyout was no closer to being finalised with key documentation including proof of funds yet to be supplied to the Rugby Football Union, while Crossan is intent on severing ties.
Only 50 per cent of the staff payroll for May was paid and the outstanding wages must also be settled if Irish are to take their place in next season’s Premiership.
It was Crossan’s failure to pay the salaries in full last week that persuaded the RFU to extend the deadline by six days in the hope that staff and players would get the money owed to them.
Suspension from the Premiership would result in the club being demoted to the foot of the rugby pyramid.
Irish’s outlook deteriorated further on Friday when they were issued with a winding-up petition by HM Revenue and Customs over an unpaid tax bill.
Petitions have been filed against London Irish Holdings Limited and London Irish Rugby Football Ground Limited.
The demise of the Exiles, who finished the Premiership in fifth place, would conclude the darkest season in the history of the English club game after Wasps and Worcester folded because of their own financial difficulties.
Wasps have been demoted to the foot of the rugby pyramid after their new owners failed to secure the funding needed to relaunch in the Championship, while Worcester have gone quiet on their plan of rebuilding from the fifth tier.
Irish have debts in the region of £30million and do not own their own stadium, instead playing at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium after a 20-year spell at Reading’s Madejski Stadium.
Bill Sweeney and Simon Massie-Taylor, chief executives of the RFU and Premiership Rugby respectively, were accused by MPs of presiding over a “failure on an epic scale” following the collapse of Wasps and Worcester, but Irish have been given every opportunity to secure their future.
The governing bodies have been forced to weigh the desire to see the Exiles survive with the need to put plans in place for next season, with the reduction of clubs from 13 to 10 requiring a different league structure.
If a third club is lost, the bleak financial climate of the Premiership in the post-Covid era will be highlighted once again with teams able to operate through the funding of benefactors.