After the World Cup in Japan the announcement that Saracens had been punished for Salary Cap issues removed any short term memory of England’s efforts to lift the trophy and the fall out will, I am pretty sure, be there for a some time to come.
In my 17 years at Sale Sharks there were always rumblings about certain clubs using ‘creative accountancy’ or quite simply ignoring the rules. The media in Rugby Union includes some very smart individuals who are not thick and they have an eye and an ear for a story. The players too added to the mix as they may smash seven bells out of one another on the pitch but talk and compare salaries/benefits when they get a chance.
Players spend time in camp at International level and always sing the praises of their own clubs but also discuss money and contracts…………….I have seen this happen. Seeds of doubt are then sewn and players go back to their clubs, ring their agents and if the club wants to keep the player they invariably have to pay more.
Let’s be honest here, Rugby Union at International level is huge but at club level it’s not really much bigger than League One in the EFL. When I started at Sharks the players all had decent cars then as the salaries soared, the posh cars, watches and wives with designer handbags grew in number and value.
Winning the Premiership or European Cup does have its bragging rights but you don’t win millions of pounds in prize money. In fact being in Europe is a costly exercise as clubs have to pay their own flights and hotels!
Exeter Chiefs is a model that should be looked at and followed. Yes I know they are not surrounded by Premiership Football Clubs, but they spend within the cap, they have no real superstars, but they have a club where the fans are important, the players are looked after and more importantly they have become a top club without blowing millions.
Going back to Saracens and the media coverage it received; potential sponsors in these money-belt tightening times will, I believe think twice. There is a school of thought that record books should be altered and titles stripped. Personally I don’t agree with that as the fans of the game will make their own minds up. The power of the internet means that everybody has access to a huge library of information and you don’t have to be a genius to accumulate information using a search engine.
When I started at Sharks in July 2000 you could say what you wanted and it may hit the media but was then mainly forgotten. These days, if you say it, it stays there and there are people on keyboards all over the planet who will remind you of something you said years ago. Add platforms like YouTube and you can be made to look rather silly by contradicting yourself as we have seen over the past few days.
In fairness to Saracens, they fronted up initially and issued statements but by not turning up for the European Cup launch picture and press conference might not have been a good idea. Then again it would have overshadowed the launch so we may have to settle for Owen Farrell photo shopped into the photo in the weeks to come.
You do have to feel sorry for the Saracens fans who are going to have to ride the storm of abuse from other teams going forward and when will it end. The fan pays his/her money, buys the merchandise, cheers the team on and to them, this must be a crushing blow. But remember creative accounting is practised widely and who knows as Game for a Laugh used to finish ‘Watching You, Watching Us’. In that, do you honestly think Saracens are the only club guilty? They were successful in lifting trophies and put themselves in the firing line. There are under achievers who may well be as I write, be using paper shredders hoping it’s not their turn next.
Salary Cap going forward? Well before joining Sharks I had several years in Rugby League and the game moved to summer in 1996 to take a SKY handout which effectively saved most from bankruptcy. All clubs had tried to follow and topple Wigan but the Wigan success came at a price and they were on the edge of financial oblivion themselves. A cap was introduced and although it has hit speedbumps down the years it’s policed correctly. If Rugby Union abolished the cap, you would have a few teams kidding themselves about being the best but most clubs in the Premiership would down their cards and walk away from the table. The Championship is a rehab centre for the relegated club who invariably bounce back. Added to this the gates in Premiership Rugby are okay but take out games at Twickenham and Wembley and they are not that good.
What would have happened if England had won the World Cup? Back in 2003 the victory gave all clubs a shot in the arm that was much needed but then the greed set in. I think, personally, the RFU will be watching closely and you may not be far away from centrally contracted players who are loaned back to clubs. Eddie Jones will be writing his report and don’t be surprised if central contracts get a mention. The current product is over-heating and players will, in England, burn out faster than other nations with having to play too many games.
The game needs to get a grip of itself otherwise it will lose credibility, sponsors, fans and respect. It also needs to be more transparent. Questions have been asked for years about the Salary Cap and its always received the political answer of ‘Everything is fine’ when clearly it wasn’t!
Views, opinions and words by Dave Swanton.
Subscribe below to receive your free digital copies of the Rugby Blindside newsletter (published every Quarter) and our new ‘Q&A’ and ‘Club Profile’ features which bring you closer to the grassroots game and provide a true insight into what happens ‘off the pitch’ at grassroots rugby clubs.