The regular season is over and I want to look forward to next term and the likely effect on the Premiership of all the new money that is about to slosh about from the TV deals.
This sounds like pretty good news for all involved although there have been some concerns expressed that it might lead to a further football style stampede from the Celtic nations to the Premiership (sad face) and Top 14.
This is not new – we’ve already seen players like George North, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and now Richard Hibberd pack their kit and travel east or south. Ireland have managed to pretty much keep all of the big names, save for Johnny Sexton. This is more a problem for the Regions and Provinces than the International teams as their Unions don’t have the English policy of selecting only home based players. You could even argue that it is a benefit for their national teams as the Premiership and Top 14 are more consistently competitive than the PRO 12 league.
The fact is you can’t blame the players, rugby careers have a sell by date – one which can be easily shortened by injury. It makes sense for them to maximise their earnings whilst they can – after all, despite the expanding coverage on TV, not all former players (or Internationals even) can become media pundits.
Clubs in the Premiership and Top 14 are going to become stronger – they will raid not just the Celts but also the Southern Hemisphere where contracts are far less lucrative. In the short term the Irish Provinces will remain a force in Europe and are likely themselves to be recruiting below the equator (Mils and Bundee are already on their way, if not yet actually on the plane).
But the financial muscle in England and France will start to tell – it’s just been announced that Corey Flynn is heading to Toulouse.
Toulon and Saracens won’t be the only clubs bringing in ‘stars’. It is also pretty certain that they won’t all be in their 30s like Mils – increasingly younger players yet to be capped, will be attracted by the cash and the lenient residency rule. Expect to see a lot of new faces in the Premiership over the next couple of seasons – not all from Millfield and Whigift Schools or Hartbury College.
Am I worried that the premiership and potentially the England side will get stronger – don’t be soft, of course not – I remember the feeling when Wasps, Tigers and Saints lifted the Heineken (Cup not cans obviously). November 22nd 2003 was pretty special chez rugby old bloke too.
The next couple of years will be interesting in the Aviva, but I still remember my old gran telling me that money is the ‘route’ of all evil – at least I think that’s what she said.