The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-09-23

Sport Rugby Union : 21 : 13

Sport Rugby Union

13 The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 23 September 2020 *** Sport Rugby Union Gavin Mairs French side’s galactico squad and were blown away. This Saturday’s semi-finals have already been reduced to an Anglo-French affair, and yet even here there is a growing disparity between the two most financiall­y powerful leagues in recent years. The devastatin­g news that there is little hope of fans returning to internatio­nal or club rugby for the next six months in the UK has further heightened those fears. Now that Saracens, European champions in three out of the past four years, have been forced to significan­tly cut back on their squad following their salary-cap breaches, both they and Exeter Chiefs face French opposition who have the ability to outspend them. Saracens scrum-half Richard Wiggleswor­th said his side were having to compete in Europe with “one hand tied behind our backs”. “Maybe we deserved this, maybe we’ve got to do it the hard way,” Wiggleswor­th said. “One way or another, we’re getting a massive French team with a huge budget, stars galore, desperate to win this competitio­n, so we know what level of emotion and intensity we are going to have to bring. This week is about getting back to that level.” The problem is their French counterpar­ts, given the need of the Top 14 clubs to fill their quota of home-grown talent. The same is true of Leinster, who have nurtured an outstandin­g supply line of talent from a well-coached playing base from private schools in the Dublin area. But should Exeter and Saracens lose on Saturday, an all-French final would ring alarm bells about the long-term impact of the inequity of finances. “The danger is that we will get to just three or four super clubs capable of winning the tournament, and even the line-up of the quarter-finals will become predictabl­e each season,” said one director of rugby. “Profession­al sport should be a competitio­n where you genuinely don’t know what is going to be happening and anyone can win, anyone can lose. It should be about the coming together of a team, the combinatio­n of skills, the coaching and the drive of the owners. Without that balance, you lose the element of excitement.” The NFL in the United States was founded on the paradox of “equitable competitiv­eness” to ensure that every franchise started a new season with a chance of winning. Now, more than ever, the Champions Cup should embrace a similar philosophy. A salary cap would go a significan­t way to address the European inequaliti­es, no matter how impossible it might seem to impose. that emotional level can only take a side so far. Saracens were magnificen­t in last Saturday’s victory over Leinster, the best resourced of all the Pro14 sides due to their high number of centrally funded Ireland internatio­nals. Their elation will have quickly subsided, however, given the size of the challenge that now awaits them in Paris against a star-studded Racing 92 side. The French salary cap is extremely complex. The basic cap is €11.3 million (£10.4 million), but clubs get an extra €200,000 (£184,000) for every member of an “elite list” of around 42 players under considerat­ion for the French national squad. An average of eight “elite list” players would represent another €1.6 million (£1.47 million), while agent fees, unlike in the Premiershi­p, are not included, increasing the comparison spend by five per cent to an average total of €13.77 million – around £12.65 million. That figure dwarfs the Premiershi­p, with even the biggest spenders who have recruited two high-profile marquee players allowed outside the cap not clearing £8.5 million. The most successful Premiershi­p clubs are able to stay competitiv­e because of the strength of their academies, and their young graduates tend to be paid significan­tly less than Chief Rugby Correspond­ent Cap on galacticos’ pay can stop rest being blown away Financial pressures of Covid crisis could force rugby to find a way to make European game equitable leagues in England and France has been a difficult enough challenge. But rugby union, like all sports, is heading into uncharted waters because of the devastatin­g financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were already concerns that the widening financial resources gap across the leagues was leading to a tournament dominated by “super clubs”. The manner of Toulouse’s 38-6 victory over Ulster on Sunday underscore­d that sentiment. Ulster, who had reached the Pro 14 final just a week before, simply could not match the firepower of the I s it time for the organisers of the Champions Cup to introduce a salary cap? The concept has previously been considered too complex to even table a discussion, never mind implement or police. Securing any sort of agreement on salary caps even in the domestic Up for the challenge: Richard Wiggleswor­th 31 20

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