There’s that old saying ‘money talks’ and in some cases that is totally accurate. In football these days we see some of the Premier League’s players earning enormous amounts of money due to rich benefactors such as Abramovich and Shiekh Mansour using their fortunes to bring the biggest names to their respective clubs.
Rugby is becoming that way in France but in England clubs are protected by the salary cap meaning that each club can only be spending £4.76 million on wages but each club is also allowed a ‘marquee’ player (that is excluded from the wage budget) which has allowed Bruce Craig’s Bath to sign former South Sydney Rabbitohs star Sam Burgess. The cap is set to increase to £5.1 million next year and each club will be allowed 2 ‘marquee’ players.
In France they have a cap but it stands at the enormous figure of €10 million and there is a loophole which Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal exploited allowing him to pay his squad of superstars massive amounts of money most notably English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson who was one of the biggest earners in world rugby as he spent 4 seasons at the Stade Felix Mayol.
France’s vastly larger salary cap has allowed them to bring in stars from all over the globe, an example is the Parisian club Stade Français who have bought Australian scrum-half Will Genia. The Australian had previously agreed terms with Premiership side Bath, the scrum-half had signed a pre-contract agreement that stated once he had completed international commitments with his native Australia for the 2015 World Cup he would join Bath.
The deal was done and Bath Rugby thought they had acquired debatably the best attacking scrum-half in the world. It was not to be as in February it was confirmed the Queensland Reds star would join Stade Français on a three year deal post-World Cup. This is just one example of this happening and it is becoming a big problem.
Some players can be earning in excess of €50,000 per month in France with Ireland fly-half Sexton on €52,000 per month this season, he is heading back to his home club Leinster in the summer. In Wilkinson’s final season on the French south coast he was earning €56,000 a month plus commercial deals and bonuses. This is far more than any player in England.
Some countries have had to make a stand and make a policy stating that they will only pick players based in the country, New Zealand, Australia and England all adopt this policy. This however does not apply to South Africa, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, it has seen real problems in Wales with their biggest stars like Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny move to France.
The moneyball game is hurting the European club rugby scene as we enter the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup three out of four home quarter finalists are French. This follows the all French final in 2013 when Toulon defeated Clermont Auvergne.
The French teams are set to dominate Europe for the forseeable future. Money is beginning to take a stranglehold in the game and is it about time the cap was lifted in England for the good of the game? Time will only tell.