Part two, looking at the London Irish, Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks, Saracens, Wasps and Worcester Warriors, will be released tomorrow.
Through the 55-page report on the crimes of the Saracens, compiled by the late Lord Myners and published May 2020, the word “transparent” or one of its derivatives has been written 18 times. A line in the sand for English rugby union governance, Myners argued, was to initiate greater openness on the salary cap and how players were paid.
Over the following weeks and months, Covid wreaked havoc. Salary cuts followed and salary cap regulations were rewritten. While recent events have solidified, the sport is still recovering. But tweaks introduced in an attempt at sustainability have made smart budgeting even more valuable.
Salaries are freely published by US sports organizations, such as the National Football League. This adds another dimension as fans are able to appreciate how teams put together their respective rosters and where they allocate resources. As a result, the smart coaching and tactical acumen deserve more praise.
In the NFL, the salary cap is considered a central pillar that preserves fairness and competitiveness alongside other facets such as the annual draft. The same would certainly be true for the rugby union fandom, despite the NFL being the alpha and omega of American football. When it comes to European tournaments, for example, Premiership clubs are not helped by the salary cap.
Two months ago, Andrew Rogers, the competition’s salary cap director, published its inaugural report. The annual document, looking at the 2020-21 campaign, contains fascinating tidbits such as the fact that 82% of scrum-half won £150,000 or less. Specific club and player details were spared, which whetted the appetite.
The coming season is so interesting because of the moving parts at play. Some clubs still have players on terms that were signed before June 2020 and the move to a tighter cap of £5m plus a maximum of £1.4 million in credits. Only 75% of these contracts count towards the cap. These aforementioned credits relate to injuries, local players and internationals. Financial advisor James King has designed an online tool which shows how much the last two factors can be deducted from a salary.
You are still allowed to exclude two salaries from the cap as well, provided these people, often known as ‘big name players’, had active contracts as of June 2020. A source said this means clubs can spend £8million ‘without really breaking a sweat’ . They must have planned ahead, of course, and been lucky.
On that note, with the cap set to go back up to £6.4m for 2024-25, clubs are already finalizing the deals – although there are average rules against going over the cap which prevent late agreements. Here are some additional trends from this club-by-club breakdown of the 2022-23 season:
- England regulars continue to take pay cuts to move clubs whose value is affected by availability
- Locks remain in high demand at either end of the pay scale
- Tactical clarity and good coaching emphasize team building and polishing the diamonds in the rough
- Clubs try to recruit promising university graduates to complete their own academy
- A lower salary cap has redistributed senior first-team players around the competition
- Pinch points await clubs facing multiple contract renewals, especially when a strong crop of academies progress together
Now, for our look at the top six of the 13 clubs, which may become more complicated depending on developments at Worcester Warriors.
Possible excluded player: Sam Underhill
Johann van Graan need only take a look around the Premiership at Steve Borthwick, Alex Sanderson or George Skivington to realize that a head coach rarely inherits a team that satisfies him. Assembling a group to fit his ethos seems to take several seasons and, often, short-term pain before noticeable gains.
Ed Griffiths stepping down as chairman in May has added another moving part to the recruitment and retention process at Bath, although the return of Dave Attwood – still loading and punching things at 35 – has been announced before that and Jonathan Joseph, considered an important leader among young midfielders such as Orlando Bailey and Max Ojomoh, renewed his terms.
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