Going out of contract is invariably a stressful time for an athlete. But at least when it normally happens - at the end of a season - you have known for some time that it is on the way and so have been able to act accordingly. Not to mention the fact that you have the summer in which to weigh up your options and all being well find new employment.

But if it occurs unexpectedly a couple of months into a campaign, when other clubs have already spent their budgets, the pressure is really on. And that is exactly what happened to Rory Sutherland in September, when Worcester went into administration.

The Scotland loosehead and every other member of the English Premiership club’s squad - including national team-mate Duhan van der Merwe - had their contracts ripped up. The players had known for some time that their employer was in trouble, and a planned pre-season friendly against Glasgow in Inverness was cancelled as a result of mounting financial concerns. But the end, when it came, was still a shock, and immediately sent all of them scrambling around in search of new clubs.

Only a few have so far been successful, among them Van der Merwe, who has come back to Edinburgh, and Sutherland, who has signed with Ulster for the rest of the season. Yet even for those lucky few, it has been a traumatic time, as Sutherland explained.

“It was a tough couple of months,” he said. “But I’m one of those fortunate guys that’s found a contract. Forty players lost their jobs, and from what I’ve seen there’s probably eight players who have managed to get a job.

“I really hope that Worcester can pull it together and can find a businessman that’s willing to buy the club and get it back on its feet again. But it’s a horrible situation to be in.

HeraldScotland: Rory Sutherland in action for WorcesterRory Sutherland in action for Worcester (Image: Getty)

“It went on for a long time. When it first came out in the media, we had just been told the day before that there was trouble at the club.

“It’s quite a hard thing to explain. I feel like I’ve dragged my family through the dirt with it. It was a really hard time just not knowing what was going to happen week to week, and even day to day as well - we got updates every day on what was happening.

“But, like I say, it was a very tough couple of months for my family.”

When it became obvious that Worcester were on the verge of going under, Sutherland was linked with his old club Edinburgh, where head coach Mike Blair expressed an interest in signing both him and Van der Merwe. Then Glasgow were in the frame. In the end, however, the player decided that Ulster was the best move.

“There were talks [with the two Scottish clubs], but nothing ever came of it,” he explained. “When it started going downhill a little bit at Worcester, my agent messaged me and said that there were a couple of clubs interested. And because it dragged on for so long and we weren’t allowed to leave, I lost a few contracts.

“But Ulster was always one that I was very impressed by. It’s a very good team and when I played against them at Edinburgh they were always a tough team to play against. And so far I’ve really enjoyed it.”

When it comes to the coaching staff at least, Sutherland feels that the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast is familiar territory. Head coach Dan McFarland was Gregor Townsend’s assistant with Scotland in the 2017-18 season, assistant Roddy Grant graduated from playing at Edinburgh to being a member of the back-room team there before making the short hop to Belfast, and chief executive Jon Petrie held the same post at Edinburgh during Sutherland’s early seasons with the capital club.

“I played with Roddy Grant and then I was coached by him briefly at Edinburgh as well,” Sutherland added. “It’s nice to see familiar faces.”

This month, of course, sees Sutherland back with many more familiar faces as part of the Scotland squad, where, with his immediate playing future settled, he can focus fully on the bid to be part of the first Scottish side to ever beat New Zealand. After being part of the squad that laboured against Fiji last Saturday before eventually emerging with a 28-12 victory, he knows that a big improvement will be needed this weekend if the team are to make history against the All Blacks.

“It’s something we’ve been building towards for a long time, getting a crack at New Zealand,” he added. “I think against Fiji we were our own worst enemy at times with discipline, and that’s a big work-on for us this week. We can’t make mistakes like that against New Zealand.”


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