Bath Rugby v Saracens - Aviva Premiership Final

Premiership Rugby is following in the path of English football’s Premier League as clubs continue to push for greater separation from the RFU.

Although we are yet to see the death of the English national football team, it is continuing to face into relative obscurity as fans and players continue to place greater emphasis on the club game. Whilst we will never see the full demise of international competition, it is losing relevance in the football world.

When it gets to the point where players are opting to feign injury in a bid to escape international duty then you know exactly where the power is wielded. Unfortunately it appears that rugby is on a similar downward spiral, even if it is 20 years behind it’s footballing counterpart, particularly in the UK.

It was back in 1991 that the top clubs in English football signed a breakaway agreement that saw them establish the Premier League and turn their backs on the FA (the equivalent of the RFU in English football). This occurred on the back of increasing TV revenues as top clubs sought more autonomy from the country’s governing body.


For anyone who follows proceedings in England’s Premiership Rugby, they may already be able to see some similarities emerging. The club game in Europe is rapidly growing in power off the back off new TV sponsorship deals with the likes of BT Sport, whilst club chairmen are pumping money into the club game and pushing for greater autonomy from their national governing bodies.

There are already a number of issues emerging between the RFU and Premiership Rugby clubs with Bath Chairman Bruce Craig criticising England’s tour of Australia in 2016, claiming it should not have been scheduled so soon after the World Cup. Elsewhere there are anecdotal reports of players from Tier 2 nations being pressurised into snubbing international call-ups in favour of more lucrative contracts.

Given the money being poured into the club game right now, it is not too hard to imagine the same pressures being applied to current England players. Although the wages on offer in rugby are still someway behind their football counterparts, reports of top earners now collecting in excess of £500,000 a season shows the way things are heading. Extrapolate this by another 10-20 years and it’s not hard to imagine wages being somewhere closer to what footballs top stars earn today.

This has obvious benefits, most notable of which is the ability to attract more top athletes into rugby. Currently rugby plays second fiddle to football when it comes to attracting young athletes, whilst even those who do progress through rugby academies have been known to opt for careers in finance, law or investment where they can earn much greater sums than as professional rugby players without the risk of having a career curtailed by injury.


The extra investment is sure to help propel rugby into the mainstream around the globe as well as the rise of leagues like the Premiership and Top 14 result in developing a worldwide fan base, who then help support their own domestic competitions. Just look at the way football has developed in the likes of the USA and Japan over the last 10-15 years.

The problem is that all of this success will likely come at the expense of the international game at a time when England are already falling behind some of the sports major powerhouses. One reason often cited for this is the lack of control the RFU currently have over players. The likes of Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and to a lesser extent Wales all have primary control over their players with their clubs being very much a secondary concern.

Whilst it is likely clubs from around the globe would eventually have to follow suit, this could result in an extended period of disappointment for English rugby fans as their team continues to fall further behind the world’s current top rugby nations.

The question now is, are English rugby clubs prepared to sacrifice the international game in the pursuit of global dominance in the way football clubs have with the Premier League?

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