Worcester players reject ‘victims’ tag as kick-off is clouded by uncertainty

In times of crisis, gallows humour can provide some light relief and at Worcester Warriors of late there has been a sizeable dose of what is often prescribed as the best medicine. “If you don’t laugh, you will cry,” says back-rower Matt Kvesic, who admits players having to live on beans on toast is a running joke at the financially stricken club.

Steve Diamond, the club’s director of rugby, concedes there is an inevitable anxiety among the squad, who have been paid last month’s wages but, as they prepare for Saturday’s season-opening match at London Irish, have no idea if they will receive September’s pay packet.

Diamond insists that none of his players have required convincing to play on Saturday – “it’s a bit like getting a horse in the stalls. If you have to put a bag over its head, turn it round and send it in, you don’t want it racing, do you?” – and so far Kyle Hatherell is the only member of the squad who has expressed a desire to leave. They would all be forgiven for having second thoughts.

The risk of injury affecting future employment should Worcester be wound up in the coming weeks is clear and there is an acute sense that while the Warriors are determined to begin the season, getting anywhere near the end of it is an insurmountable hurdle unless fresh investment is forthcoming. That the hoarding at Sixways which advertises the Warriors’ next match remains blank feels ominous – even if there have been positive noises about a potential buyer more recently.

As ever, it is the players who bear the brunt at a time when the authorities give the impression they are closing their eyes and hoping for the best. Among them there is significant distrust in the current owners given the delay in wages being paid and sympathy with club employees who have either been paid 65% of their August salaries or not at all. But equally, there is a determination that they will not be perceived as victims. Worcester will have to wear last season’s kit on Saturday – delivered by a sponsor after the club’s van was repossessed – but the players do not want any pity for their plight.

It helps that in Diamond they have a leader who relishes rolling his sleeves up in times of hardship. Indeed, players and staff have been lining up to praise their director of rugby – “in Dimes we trust” says Cameron Neild who will be captain on his Worcester debut on Saturday – and Diamond’s straight-talking pragmatism has been a shining light throughout. He has been honest enough to encourage his players to put themselves in the “shop window” on Saturday and impress any potential future employers should they have to leave, but predicts most will want to vent frustrations after the opening whistle blows against London Irish. “I think [the referee] Wayne Barnes is going to have a job on his hands and that’s why they have given us him, I think.”

In a similar vein, Neild will not want for subject matter when it comes to his pre-match team talk and after being reunited with Diamond this summer, having played under him at Sale, he has no regrets. “None at all. It doesn’t bother me too much what is going on” he says. “Obviously, you’ve got to reach out to the younger players who are struggling financially and make sure that they’re able to get through for the time being. People have done that and even housed other players for periods of time and still are. I couldn’t believe it when I first joined how close knit the group was.”

Kvesic, on the other hand, is a club stalwart. He is in his second spell at Worcester, having in 2009 become the youngest player to represent them in the professional era. “It has been pretty stressful. I am not going to pretend otherwise,” he says. “There is nothing I can do that will directly impact what is going on above me. I just have to do my job. If that is turning up at training and supporting the boys who need it, that is all I can do. At home it is not ideal. I have got a little lad and there is worry about the future. But you have to stay in the present. I love playing rugby but I’m not going to do it for free because I understand that running into brick walls every week is not good for you. At the same time, if I didn’t feel it was right for me, I wouldn’t still be here.

“We hope that in two or three weeks or months or whatever it might be we look back on this and it’s something that brought us closer together and it’s given us a new perspective on rugby. We don’t want to be victims of this. We don’t want to be feeling sorry for ourselves and think ‘poor us, we’ve had a bit of a torrid time over the last few weeks’.”

So what chance do Worcester have on Saturday? They had to cancel their only pre-season fixture against Glasgow, there have been times in recent weeks the players have chosen to take the sting out of training given the swirling uncertainty and fitness is likely to be an issue once the early adrenalin has worn off. Diamond has promised to stop the team bus at the first off licence on the way home should Worcester pull off an unlikely victory.

“When you cross the white line, you aren’t thinking about what’s coming into your bank at the end of month,” says Neild. “You’re thinking about the guy that’s coming head-first into you and how you can put him back on his arse. We are going there with the intention of winning the game. There is no point in taking the field if you don’t believe you can do that.”