There are lots of reasons why many pro sports leagues, from America’s NFL to English county cricket, employ a cap. They want a level playing field where every team is competitive, and tactical skills can override the size of a benefactor’s wallet.
Even with the stranded London Welsh, the Aviva Premiership can claim to be the most competitive league in the world, with 44% of games decided by a single score (or drawn). The result is a steady rise in attendances and record TV viewing figures – proof that English rugby has got it right.
Griffiths’s contention that English clubs will lose out on star names to French rugby is partially true. But the provision of the ‘marquee player’ clause – which excludes the highest earner from the cap – permits any Premiership club to sign a Dan Carter. And next season clubs can have two marquee players, so you can have Carter and Kieran Read!
Yet this misses the point, because overdo the number of foreign players and you undermine the national team. France, who have some 250 foreigners in their Top 14, struggle to get the balance right and are paying the consequences at Test level.
In contrast, the number of England-qualified players in the Premiership passed 70% last season and young players have been granted the game time needed to fast-track their development. England have won back-to-back Junior World Cups partly because of such exposure.
Rugby union has only been professional for 20 years and in the early days some clubs spent beyond their means, or saw a ‘sugar daddy’ withdraw. The incentive to avoid the financial strife encountered by Richmond, London Scottish et al lay behind the creation of a cap in 1999.
Sixteen years on, the salary cap is rising in line with commercial revenues and that’s the basis of a healthy, sustainable business.
This Rant first appeared in the March edition of Rugby World – but what do you think about this issue?