Before I begin this blog, I would like to clarify a couple of points. Firstly, this isn’t a piece of investigative journalism. I’m not about to lay bare the finances of any club and somehow expose them to being in breach of a theoretical salary cap. In fact, research for this blog is pretty much limited to rough spending figures in the Celtic nations and I certainly haven’t looked at the salaries of any individual players or even the spend of specific clubs. It remains (as a blog should) my opinion. Secondly, that opinion I will layout for you now. The answer is no. If that satisfies your curiosity enough, feel free to stop reading; for everybody else, I will go on to explain that view now.
What started it all
When salary caps are mentioned in rugby, the mind immediately jumps to the soon to be relegated Saracens in the English Premiership. The club that famously breached the salary cap through clever sponsorship deals and it seems, several London properties and who are therefore viewed by quite a few people as having bought their years of success in both the English Premiership and Europe as well.
The Pro14 has its own equally successful club in reigning champions and last years European runners-up, Leinster who at the time of writing are at the very least Pro14 finalists this year (and highly tipped to be winners) but also European quarter-finalists against none other than, yes you guessed it, Saracens!
There is a key difference though. Saracens’ spending became obvious to almost everybody. An enormous squad that could comfortably field a fully international starting 15 and fill the bench in the equal manner. Leinster can’t do that and they don’t. Yes, they have a few superstars; names like Sexton, Furlong, Healy, Ringrose spring to mind but don’t forget that they all play their international rugby in green and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Pro14 side that isn’t similarly filled with their country’s international players (Edinburgh most definitely included). Even rising star James Lowe doesn’t yet have an international cap to his name and he was largely unknown when he was first signed from New Zealand.
You can say the same for the future Scotland trio of Schoeman, Van der Merwe and Van der Walt. My point is that Leinster (and other teams) are growing their stars, not buying them and when they decide they’re worth more? They let them go, just look at Sexton’s stint in France. Do you really think Leinster outbid the spending giants of Racing 92 to get him back? No, me neither. There’s also more than a few ex-Leinster players who will be facing their old club in Ulster colours for this year’s final including (and yes I am going to say his name) Ian Maddigan…
It’s not all about Leinster
Leinster are but one example though. In recent memory teams like Scarlets and rivals Glasgow have both won the Pro14 with their country’s players (or at the very least those of the Celtic nations). These teams are full of international superstars who could arguably earn big money elsewhere yet they stay. Okay, Wales do have selection criteria though it seems to have so many exceptions and loopholes that’s it not worth the paper it’s written on. Even then, those who have been tempted away (and allowed to go) often come back. Jamie Roberts and Liam Williams being recent examples. Ireland’s selection rules are more of an unwritten convention whilst with only 2 pro teams, Scotland cannot afford to be so picky (though I think I do remember a few fairly recent starting 15s that were an exclusive combo of Glasgow and Edinburgh players).
So what do they spend? Well as I mentioned before, I don’t actually know for certain and you’d probably need a spreadsheet as lang’s my arm to properly work it out. Rough estimates suggest though that in general countries (yes countries) in the Pro14 spend slightly under the salary cap of 1 English Premiership team. Ireland may be slightly over that £5 million mark but again that’s split over 4 clubs. This is why the Pro14 doesn’t need a salary cap.
Reasons for a cap
See, a salary cap is there for 2 main reasons. Firstly, it prevents a sport from over-spending and becoming unsustainable though with recent struggles caused by you know what, that’s highly unlikely to happen these days. Secondly, it allows for fair competition and prevents teams from buying the win. It’s what you are seeing happen in the English Premiership but also in other sports too like F1 where Mercedes dominance is turning many fans away. A salary cap in the Pro14 would have to be extremely low before it even came close to the budgets of the ‘top spenders’ and that point would probably only serve to damage the development of the sport and the fortunes of international sides.
So no, the Pro14 isn’t in need of a salary cap. It isn’t in need of one because it doesn’t overspend. It isn’t in need of one because it grows home talent and keeps hold of it, it isn’t in need of one because for most players, putting on the jersey is enough. If you’re not convinced of that last point check Roan Frostwick’s recent interview following his first appearance for us. There may come a day when it’s required but I really hope that isn’t the case and, to be honest, I genuinely doubt that it will ever be an issue. We’ll all just have to learn how to beat Leinster on the field…