Having looked at the salary cap in Premiership rugby from the viewpoint of a Saracens fan let’s take a look at the world of the Top 14 French clubs. With a few nuances the cap in England is £4.5m in Wales £3.5m. The Irish provinces have no cap in place as such but finances are restricted due to the intertwining with the IRFU. And Scotland will be in a similar position. The cap for the French Top 14 clubs is a heady 10m Euros, £8.6m!
When looking at the squads in the Top 14 in search of players from the UK, who are listed below, what struck me was the number of top class Southern Hem players plying their trade in France! The United Nations of rugby team Toulon boast the following Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams, Daniel Roussow, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and the sublime Bryan Habana: these are players of pure class who would be on the wish list of every fan! Watching Toulon play my team Saracens at Twickenham in the Heineken Cup last season was like watching a parade of stars! It was which international player is coming on next, rather than I wonder if. Rumour has it that Toby Flood will be targeted as the amazing Jonny Wilkinson looks to hang up his boots.
The Welsh regions are being hit hard by their inability to match the salary offered by the French clubs. Yes rugby is in the blood for most born in Wales and to play in the red shirt must be like a dream come true; however what we as fans must always remember is that playing rugby as well as a passion is for the players their living. The physical nature of the game ensures that this is not a living that will see you much past 35 if that; and one injury could see a premature end to a career in the blink of an eye. Players have to go to the club that can offer them the biggest pay packet and while we’re not talking the obscene levels reached by Wendyball (football for the uninitiated) Jonathan Sexton, one of the latest converts, is reported to be ‘earning’ 55,000 Euros a month, a life changing sum of money. The exodus of players grows each year and as contracts come to an end it can only continue.
So, will we see domination by French clubs in whichever form of European competition we end up with? It isn’t always easy to take a band of men from different countries and cultures and make them a team. Watching French clubs over the last few years it’s struck me that the players seem to be physically superior, fitter and in better shape; but a lot of a teams’ success will come from attitude and how much the players want to win for each other. It will also be interesting to see what effect this exodus has on the national teams. France don’t seem to be the powerhouse they were as the teams feeding into the national side are diluted with overseas stars. And the ‘home countries’ if they do decide to pick players who’ve journeyed across the waters are likely to have their squad time reduced.
We may well be seeing the final year of the Heineken Cup, I bought my tickets for the final in Cardiff today, I really hope I’m not watching two French clubs battle it out with their highly paid stars!
This may be where your missing players are!
Home Nations players in the Top 14
Toulon: Steffon Armitage, Delon Armitage, Andrew Sheridan, Jonny Wilkinson
Montpellier: Johnnie Beattie, Jim Hamilton
Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne, Nathan Hines
Castres: Max Evans, Marcel Garvey, Richie Gray
Racing Metro: Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts, Jonny Sexton
Grenoble: Olly Barkley
Perpignan: Luke Charteris, Richard Haughton, James Hook, Luke Narraway
Bayonne: Mike Phillips
Brive: Kieran Murphy
Biarritz: Iain Balshaw, Aled Brew, Magnis Lund