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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