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Worcester players and fans show warrior spirit but defeat by Exeter could be the team’s last game

Cowboys out, workers up, read a sign on the way to Sixways yesterday. As for the messages, it left little to the imagination, accurately summing up how embattled Worcester supporters feel as their club stands on the brink of existence.

There remains a very real possibility that this game could have been the Warriors’ last. To be honest, it was a miracle that it happened at all. This was a match that drew a line in the sand for Worcester.

If owners Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring fail to complete a takeover of the club in the coming days, Warriors staff will go on strike. They’ve had enough and who can blame them?

The majority of Worcester employees, players aside, received just 65 percent of their August salaries. Some didn’t get paid at all.

They continued heroically and worked miracles to ensure their team could play against Exeter. They won’t do that again.

Off the field, Worcester’s staff have excelled. The club’s players then put on a back-to-the-wall display that, while not enough to win, contained plenty of struggle and desire and proved why this club needs to be saved.

“We can’t go on like this,” admitted Worcester rugby director Steve Diamond after his team’s 21-36 loss. “We’re embarrassed to call ourselves a high-performance environment and feel involved when dealing with what we’re dealing with.”

Worcester has certainly had to deal with unprecedented circumstances since the club were first served with a dissolution notice over an unpaid tax bill in August.

“I don’t think a rugby director has had to answer questions like this before,” said Diamond, who was quizzed after the game about Worcester’s financial future and whether his staff were being bullied at work.

The owners released a lengthy statement yesterday claiming they are on the verge of finalizing a sale of Worcester to a new, unnamed buyer who is ready to pump in immediate funds that will seal the club’s future.

But the couple, who have now lost the trust of everyone associated with Worcester, said so last Friday and their patience with the “cowboys” is now running out.

“The owners came in with a cider budget and wanted a champagne club,” former Worcester forward Martin Hooper, who has been a season ticket holder for six years, told Sportsmail.

“The lack of communication from the owners was a shame. My message to them is tell us the truth and make a deal. When we have to go into administration, we face the music. This club needs to be saved.’

Worcester will travel to Gloucester for a cup game on Wednesday and host Newcastle in the league on Saturday. The reality is that unless a takeover closes soon, these games will not happen. They can’t even afford the fees to register new players they need to play Gloucester.

It only costs £45 a time but the finances just aren’t there. The fact that the game took place in Exeter was only because the staff worked despite not receiving their full pay packets. Stewards at Sixways yesterday offered their services free of charge.

The required ground safety certificate was signed at 11am, while the overflowing bins at Sixways were only cleared by Bromsgrove Council on the eve of kick-off. Worcestershire Council had not been paid for this by the Warriors. “I have to thank the crowd. You can see what it means for us to be here,” said Worcester captain Francois Venter.

“It was tough, but hopefully everything will be sorted out. We still don’t know what’s going on and the uncertainty is what’s mentally shaking you. It would be a shame if that was our last game.”

Whittingham and Goldring were not with Sixways but said in a statement yesterday: “I expect next week’s games and staff commitment to them will depend on the strength of our communications and action over the coming days.”

Sportsmail understands last week Worcester commercial director Adam Palfrey told staff they would lose their jobs if they vented anger at not being paid or criticized the owners, though Diamond expressed disbelief .

Whittingham said: “There is anger on both sides and that has created conflict. The announcement recently released on the club’s official channels was a breach of contractual obligations. But we don’t want to lay anyone off.’

In front of a crowd limited to just 4,999 for safety reasons, the Worcester players received an honor guard on the field from staff who had worked all night to get the game started. Exeter led 22-7 at the break thanks to Joe Simmonds and a brace from Richard Capstick. Alex Hearle’s try for Worcester got the Warriors fans excited after the break and they closed to within eight points when Gareth Simpson and impressive center Ollie Lawrence also crossed.

Worcester fans stood up and applauded the club’s staff on the 65th minute to reflect the percentage of their payments due they received.

It was a poignant, even emotional moment. But Exeter second-half attempts from Olly Woodburn and Jack Maunder gave the Chiefs a bonus point win. In front of England head coach Eddie Jones, winger Jack Nowell stood out.

Had Worcester Murray McCallum not lost to the bench and managed to make their pathetic lineup work, they might have won.

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