As Bath have shown recently with their failed bid for Dan Carter, English Rugby is becoming ever more ambitious, writes Rugby World reader Dan Grose.
By bidding for one of the most iconic figures in the game, Bath like many others are demonstrating a growing desire to lure the biggest and best to the Premiership.
However this ambition once again raises a contentious issue; the salary cap. Currently standing at £4.2m, Premier Rugby have announced they will not be raising the cap next season, instead signalling an intention to “look at the possibility” from the 2012-13 season.
For Bath, the announcement has simple ramifications; no increase, no Dan Carter. With an estimated annual wage of approximately £800,000, the current cap means the club simply cannot afford him, something that has once again set off the great debate.
Unsurprisingly, Bath are desperate for an increase. Along with Leicester, Saracens and Northampton they are calling for an increase to £5m or an abolition all together. They feel that, with their large quota of home grown players on high wages thanks to England credentials, they should be allowed the opportunity of “up to two marquee signings”.
Premier Rugby is now facing a difficult decision. Whilst the prospect of the game’s biggest stars flocking to England is an attractive one, the long term stability of the league is of most importance.
With the abolition of the cap, clubs such as Exeter, Leeds and Newcastle would find themselves all but priced out of league, struggling to compete with the more fashionable clubs for their marquee signings. Even an increase would damage clubs like Gloucester, who focus on developing from their academy yet still have to maintain a close eye on their wages.
France’s Top 14 is a prime example of how clubs can get left behind. With the salary cap now up to €8.7m, £7.6m approximately, Stade Francais, Toulon, Toulouse and Biarritz all boast a squad filled with overseas talent. Whilst the current table does not reflect this trend, world rugby’s top stars are constantly being tempted with a move. Meanwhile, France’s remaining clubs can only watch and attempt to keep up.
Crossing codes, the Super League has managed to strike a healthy balance. Standing at only £1.65m, the competition boasts fourteen teams that can all compete at the highest level, this season especially. With Huddersfield currently sat on top of an exciting table, fans are watching the perfect mix of entertainment and quality players.
Of course with frugality comes the risk of defection, and Super League’s crown jewel Kyle Eastmond has already escaped to Bath for next season, something they are happy to take advantage of.
By capturing players of Eastmond’s calibre, the West Country club are once again looking to challenge for the title, and are desperate for their salaries to match their aspirations.
Fans will no doubt be hoping to one day see the likes of Dan Carter grace grounds around England – who wouldn’t? But these dreams should be built on steady foundations.
Whilst continual evolution is important for a competition as strong as the Premiership, the welfare of every club must remain priority number one. Although a decision does not look forthcoming until next year at least, what is certain is that Premier Rugby will have an awful lot to consider.