sport

Exiles takeover completed

London Irish have announced that a consortium of London-based Irish businessmen has completed a takeover of the club.

The group, led by president Mick Crossan, has acquired a major shareholding in the company.

The owners have committed substantial new funds to invest in the new centre of excellence at Hazelwood and to strengthen the professional playing squad.

Director of rugby Brian Smith confirmed that the Exiles are determined to build on their Irish roots by signing more players from the Celtic nation.

Smith said: "We have to be what we say we are on the tin and that means being representative of Ireland."

However, interim executive chairman David Fitzgerald has ruled out paying over the odds to retain England wing Marland Yarde and dismissed the prospect of a Toulon-style recruitment drive.

Yarde's contract expires at the end of the season and while the Exiles want to retain a 21-year-old who is beginning to make his name in international rugby, they insist any deal must offer value.

Fitzgerald has revealed "substantial funds" are available following a takeover by a consortium of London-based Irish businessmen.

But Fitzgerald insists the club will operate a sustainable business and avoid the type of extravagant spending spree that has seen French club Toulon assemble a squad of international stars.

"Marland is a home-grown player and as someone who we brought through the ranks we are very keen to keep him," Fitzgerald said.

"But there is a market out there and there's a point at which you say you're better off investing elsewhere.

"I don't want people to run away with the idea that we have brought in a whole load of money and we are basically going to be the next Toulon.

"The reality is that the French market is in a different league to everybody else. It doesn't make economic sense to start competing with those guys.

"The idea is not to treat rugby as a toy that you can invest in for fun. It's a fool's errand if you try to compete with the French."

The Exiles are thought to currently operate one-third below the Aviva Premiership salary cap of 4.26million, but now plan to make full use of the limit.

London Irish have the ambition of becoming one of the "best clubs in the world", according to Crossan, and want their squad to comprise of one third academy graduates, one third Irishmen or players of Irish descent and one third of world-class signings.

One ambition is to attract a household name Ireland international as they seek to reconnect with their Celtic roots and strengthen the relationship with the Irish Rugby Football Union.

British and Irish Lions forwards Jamie Heaslip, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien are out of contract at the end of the season and the Madejski Stadium offers an alternative to the Top 14 should they decide to play overseas.

"We would love to get our hands on a frontline Irish international, but clearly we want to work with the unions," Smith said.

"We are not trying to drag the Irish captain (O'Connell) out of a central contract, but if it fits for someone who has missed the boat or who wants a life change, then we can attract that type of player."

Fitzgerald revealed there are no plans to move ground from Reading with the club contracted to stay at the Madejski Stadium until 2025/26.