Following today's press release from Saracens, we dug this out of our archives. First published in the September 2013 edition of Rugby World, it's still prevalent today...

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WITH ENGLISH clubs failing to oust their French counterparts in the European Cup in recent years and several high-profile names jetting off to the millionaires’ playground of the Top 14, some fans are asking why Aviva Premiership clubs are no longer expected to compete with the French.

One answer being proffered is that English sides are impeded by the salary cap. In place since 1999, the cap ensures that no Premiership club can spend in excess of a salary limit, agreed upon by a majority of the Premiership Rugby board, the 12 representatives of the Premiership sides.

Here, Exeter CEO Tony Rowe and former Bath coach Steve Meehan, who’s also worked for Western Force, debate whether English clubs should keep the cap. Read their views and then cast your vote…

No: Steve Meehan

AT THE time Bath were bought by Bruce Craig (2010), I remember thinking it could immediately bear fruit. I thought money could put Bath on an even footing with the big guns – but we couldn’t take advantage.

It’s not just about your starting 15 but your second 15. The traditional big guys can lose 15 internationals. He has been vocal since he has left but when Martin Castrogiovanni was at Leicester they had Dan Cole as well and that is not bad as an example. There are some pretty clever guys looking at the regulations.

I never felt restricted but at Bath we understood and played by the rules. You look at team depth. I cannot really complain as I tried to maximise the quality of the squad, but it was no secret that when Butch James got injured for us – and this is not an insult to the guys who came in and did their best – we found it tough. You cannot have two fly-halves like that. You cannot chase your tails, and if we had two fly-halves like that we would lose out elsewhere.

I also had meetings with Premiership Rugby about player welfare. There is a lot of rugby and at the moment there seems to be a lot of retirements coming out. Is this the tip of the iceberg? Maybe they can track it back to the salary cap.

bruce craig

Driving force: Bath would benefit from the Premiership getting rid of the cap

I’ve spoken about it on various occasions: when fans questioned the players’ efforts I’d say to them, ‘Would you care to look in the changing room?’ The boys looked like they’d been in a car accident. Then you see what they have to do at the end of a long season and it’s no surprise that players look at the riches of France or guys from here in Australia or New Zealand look at Japan.

There are some concessions for academy guys but those run out after a few years. There is an interesting debate in Australian rugby league about concessions for long-serving players at a club. A percentage of their wages could be taken out of the salary cap. To do that you need a good club culture that players stay for, but it could be a way of creating greater stability without needing to add 12 players to your programme a year.

I can see why some owners and CEOs would be offended by the cap and be concerned that they aren’t trusted to be responsible. It’s give and take. Here in Australia we have a cap, but the ARU offer top-ups for certain players’ wages.

The Western Force are also getting concessions now to bring in more foreign development players. New ARU CEO Bill Pulver is proactive and wants competitive teams because
there is Australian Rules, league and soccer in a small market.

In Europe, the European Cup cannot rely on the northern hemisphere’s magnificent tradition to get bums on seats and compete with soccer.

Tony Rowe – Yes

IF THERE was a debate at board level today I would fight for it. We at Exeter Chiefs aren’t naïve enough to think that all clubs stick to the word of the law on the cap, but we would rather have something that keeps things in check than nothing at all.

We aren’t as rich as some clubs and we’ve had to manage our budget to be successful on the pitch as well as making a profit. That would be more difficult without the cap.

In the Aviva Premiership all of the teams can beat each other. Some of the results last year prove that and it is fantastic, because the competition is not totally one-sided. That is what punters go for. There is enjoyment and everyone shows some of the more traditional clubs the greatest respect. You wouldn’t find fans so respectful if they were regularly beaten by the chequebook.

Some can pull out the chequebook once a year and if there was open season only two or three would spend well over the current cap. It is sort of self-policing but, like everything else in life, some can see their way around it. If you’ve seen the regulations they’re a hefty bit of paperwork. As long as there is someone willing to write regulations, there are also those willing to sit and study them.

sandy park

Business view: Rowe has made sure Exeter is financially secure

The problem is that the documents are difficult to enforce to the letter and the penny. If I wanted to bend the rules and had someone in my legal team who came to me and said they had the answer I would probably consider it.

All the shareholders at clubs meet up (to vote on the cap) but sometimes it can feel like turkeys voting for Christmas. I would support the rules being enforced more and that would be passed down to the board of directors, who are the turkeys.

We need to move on in other ways. Worcester Warriors and ourselves didn’t just appear. We had planned for a long time, working on building the commercial sides of the clubs. London Welsh were never afforded that. The rules are ringfenced in favour of the Championship clubs but you have to be able to perform within the cap.

Three years ago we were given less than £1m centrally (from the RFU) while others got £3m. We planned to make up the deficit for when we joined the Premiership, so that the gulf between us and the other clubs was one we could afford.

The challenge should change so that first division or Championship clubs that aspire to make the Premiership don’t suffer. It comes down to money, or the lack of it. The RFU have been very reluctant to spend money on grass-roots or amateur rugby in the past and they get the bulk of their money from pro rugby.

Now, the Aviva Premiership is very professionally run and the teams have made great efforts to provide a brilliant match-day experience for fans – and rightfully so. However, that is what others are looking up into.

Cast your vote below…

  • Rory

    Well said. Over-commercializing the game, implicit in generating the funds required to make removing the cap feasible (many clubs just don’t actually have that much cash), will take control of the game away from those with its best interests as a good, honest sport at heart.

  • Nick

    There are two precedents for maintaining salary capping (or not); 1 the Soccer Premiership; lunatic costs, insolvent clubs, high ticket prices etc. 2. French national selection has suffered since the arrival of the Top14 Harlem Globetrotter teams. Only a fool trips on whats behind him