With the news that Jonny Sexton is looking like he is on his way to Racing Metro from Leinster almost turning his back on the IRFU, it raises the question- Is the lure of money overtaking the pride of representing the National team. And to what extent is money making an effect on the rugby world?
Within the last few months we've seen a wealth of Welsh talent perform a mass exodus to shores of France to receive a bounty of money in comparison to their earnings back in their motherland. The French teams such as Toulon and Racing Metro have certainly been shelling out the Euros, drafting in an enormity of players from around the world. The effect this has had on the likes of smaller nations such as the Wales has seen them looking to drop from four to three regions, the financial capability just is not there. An issue for me is with all this talent in these squads game time will be restricted, bench time will become all to usual, demonstrating the sport to be drifting towards a big money game.
Many nations apply the ruling 'to play for the country you must play in the country!' Even this has now not become a big enough deterrent as the pennies are a bigger draw as opposed to pulling on the national shirt and displaying you pride for all the world to see.
The French seem to be slowly pillaging the talent from other nations seemingly to build Rugby's version of the English football premier league, but to what detriment to other nations and teams? Could this French cash splash be causing a shift in direction in the purity of the sport?
The IRFU's decision is a tough one, if they allow Sexton to continue to play for Ireland then it will allow other to do likewise plunging Irish rugby into a dire situation. A large issue regarding player flocking to foreign shores is sadly money. Salary caps are quite a contentious issue, the vast varying amounts in each leagues salary cap is almost astounding! The Welsh rugby has a cap of £3.5m, the Aviva premiership amasses to £4.5 yet the French Top 14 has a loosely based €9.5m cap. With such a vast difference the enticement to travel abroad to earn some extra money for security when their career comes to pass is understandable.
The RaboDirect Pro 12 has no actual implemented salary cap although Scotland, Ireland and Italy seem to observe the same principle as the WRU's salary cap due to being small nations in the terms of economy.
The Aviva Premierships salary cap is a little trickier to grasp but equates to £4.5m. The actual cap is £4.26m with additional academy credits, academy credits are an allocation of £30,000 for each home-grown player and a maximum of eight credits per team raising the cap up. The other little interesting allowance for each team is to have one player whose salary is not declared against the salary cap a 'Marquee player'.
The salary cap for the Top 14 is at €9.5m but there are many loopholes in the system meaning that certain clubs are able to flout this and stretch the boundaries. There is becoming a little rumble from France that they are worrying the lack of actual French talent is now being pushed aside for the wealth of foreign talent, so it's becoming detrimental to their own national game.
What solutions could there be to the exodus abroad, how could this be halted and stop club rugby almost losing its national stars and losing the progression of future stars? Surely with a continual progression of foreign players flooding leagues will make exciting rugby but start turning the game into the money orientated game of football. If you look at the English Premiership and study the amount of English players feature in the 22 teams on a regular basis, and then look at the state of English football on the world stage? There is still the encouragement of nurturing home-grown talent in rugby which seems lost in football, but will the draw of cash drive a wedge in this nurturing.
I believe a salary cap is one thing that is grounding rugby and stopping it from morphing into the same state that football has become. As football is more money orientated business more so than the sport itself the players are more of a commodity to the club rather than a team member. This may be considered as a harsh generalisation but there is a huge difference between the competitors in both sports-
- because of the players being payed such vast quantities of money footballers have separated theirselves from the real world. Money is no object and they can shroud themselves in the company only they believe to be on par with, how often do you see a premiership star shopping in sainsburys? Some may consider them as egotistical prima-donnas!
- rugby players still seem to have that air of normality about them and in fairness are still fairly normal guys, not in size though! It's quite simple to see generally the players are very responsive through twitter and are more than happy to respond to their supporters as they realise its them ultimately helps pay their salaries.
A suggestion is to equal out the salary caps across the various leagues, but again this could cause more issues. It becomes unfair on leagues that can afford and sustain the finances, whereas the smaller countries may not be able to do so and lead into to another financial melting pot. I do truly believe that it is time that a governing body such as the ERC or IRB took stock of the mounting problem and in turn brought the competing leagues together and tried to forge some sense of a amicable agreement to salvage an ailing problem before anymore damage is caused to club rugby, which I'm sure as in football has filtered into international level.
Rugby at this moment is time is still cantered around the sport and and the growth and development of the game not financial implications, but worryingly I can see it to be drifting in that direction. An evolution of the sport through the professional climate is inevitable but let's learn from football and ensure we stay away from the way they have evolved. I enjoy a good game of football but find it frustrating watching players attitudes towards officials and diving to gain a free kick/penalty and see a player carded. Rugby still has its purity and gentlemanly air shrouded around it, I would hate to see this lost!