‘When everyone who follows rugby union – and I mean fans, sponsors, players –’ comments
Dave Swanton during a phone call this week, ‘when everyone who follows rugby union went to
bed on Friday night last week, and got out of bed on Monday morning, the game had changed.’
Dave Swanton knows what he’s talking about: he’s spent 40 years in the media, including 17
years as Media Manager at Sale Sharks. Speaking to him on the phone this week he was keen to
assert that, in no uncertain terms, the fallout from the Salary-Cap-Gate will be a watershed,
identity-defining moment for the sport.
His primary concern was that the relationship between the fans and the clubs has been broken.
‘Fans are going to drift.’ The moment you get a successful team, Swanton predicts, ‘now you’re
going to look at them under the microscope… This thing will burn until they put it right.’
To Swanton, rugby is in a moment of existential crisis, a crisis that will not be easy to navigate.
‘I don’t know if they will put it right and I don’t know if they can put it right. The trust has gone.
The whole game is being questioned.’
However, for Swanton, from his experience in the Media – both as a journalist and as a Media
Manager – another huge knock-on effect will be the relationship between the media and rugby’s
And who’s to blame for this? ‘You’ve got to point the finger at Premier[ship] Rugby.’
‘There are a lot of journalists who are angry because they have been lied to for years. It’s not
Saracens they’re angry at, it’s Prem. Rugby. The journalists have given Saracens as much as
they’re going to give them – I think the journalists are going to go after Prem. Rugby.’
To Swanton, this conflates to the seriousness of the event. To lose engagement with both fans
and the media puts Premiership Rugby in a very perilous position.
‘Rugby in the premiership in England has lost its credibility – and I don’t know whether they
have the people in place to repair it. You damage your relationship with the media, and you’ve
got a problem [because] if people don’t read about rugby union [then] you’ve got no game.’
Regarding the practical, Swanton predicts this could fundamentally change the relationship
between the RFU and English players.
At the end of the season, he forecasts a mass-migration of players from the Premiership to
France – a country free from salary cap regulations. These players will be allowed to play for
England because of the ‘Special Circumstances’ clause, and in the mean-time the French game
will go ‘through the roof.’
The knock-on effect here, is that when players move to France, the RFU loses control of them,
Swanton clarifies. You can’t get French clubs to rest players they’ve paid a million pounds for. Similarly, English clubs will lose the financial revenue they gain from the RFU for having players
in the England squad.
And then, back to the fans.
‘If these players go to Racing  or Toulon, you’ve got to think what’s going to happen to the
English game.’ Fans will be playing the same money for less spectacle; club sides will fill up with
overseas players as homegrown talent moves abroad.
‘Seriously, what you’ve got coming – the fog won’t clear. You will keep opening doors and things
will keep falling out on you… I will watch with interest.’
Me and you both, Dave.
By Will Sewell