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New Salary Cap Changes Could Create Two-Tier Premiership

during the Aviva Premiership Final between Bath Rugby and Saracens at Twickenham Stadium on May 30, 2015 in London, England

As initial details of the new EPS agreement started to come through last night, fans began to speculate on how any changes to this and the Premiership’s salary cap would change the dynamic between club and country. However, with the changes for next season it could effectively create a two-tier Premiership.

The salary cap was brought in by Premiership Rugby – the umbrella organisation of all twelve Premiership clubs – to prevent repeats of the likes of London Scottish and Richmond, who collapsed in the early days of professionalism having mismanaged their finances, including overspending on players. Moreover, the cap was brought in to ensure there was a level playing field in English domestic rugby and a club could not simply buy their way to the top.

Changes were brought in for this season to allow for two ‘marquee’ players, or big name stars who would be exempt from salary cap restrictions. This allows the clubs to sign world-class players from around the globe to continue to improve the status and stature of the league and hopefully the quality of rugby.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 31: Detail view of the Aviva Premiership Trophy before the Aviva Premiership Final between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium on May 31, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

However, according to Premiership Rugby, the changes for next season and beyond will include:

“A new England Senior EPS or International Player Credit in addition to the Base level to facilitate squad strengthening, particularly cover for player absence during international periods.”

Premiership Rugby go on to explain the details of the Senior EPS/International Player Credit:

“Where a club is unable to select a player in its squad for a Premiership Rugby or European fixture as a result of that player being selected in a match day squad by his national union or absent under the terms of the Heads of Agreement.

“There shall be a total allowance up to £80,000 per player depending on meeting certain qualification and selection criteria.”

Therefore, a club like Saracens, which currently provides eight players to the EPS squad (Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Alex Goode) could claim an allowance of up to £640,000. That’s a significant amount of money when you consider the total base level for the salary cap will be £6.5 million in 2016/17. That’s 10% of the total salary cap base level. If that number becomes ten or twelve players then the club would be allowed to spend up to £800,000 or £960,000 over the limit.

BARNET, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Billy Vunipola of Saracens charges upfield duirng the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter final match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Allianz Park on April 9, 2016 in Barnet, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Therefore, arguably there is now an incentive for the more wealthier clubs to buy up English talent so they can utilise their skills when they are not with the national side but also sign up bigger name players using the senior EPS credits for when their core of English players are away on international duty. It would in effect allow the richest clubs to exponentially expand the size of their squads compared to other clubs.

That means teams like Wasps, Saracens, Bath, Leicester or Northampton could buy up other clubs’ English talent and be able to spend significantly over the salary cap. In turn that means we could see a much greater concentration of top English talent at a handful of clubs. At the moment all clubs except Newcastle, Worcester and London Irish are represented in the EPS squad.

If this happens, we could see the same clubs begin to dominate the league and consistently take up European places every season. That would effectively create a two-tier Premiership, a by-product of the new changes to the salary cap rules, a salary cap originally introduced to stop this happening. Although the RFU knows central contracts and franchises are an impossibility for them, this arrangement would mean the entire EPS squad could be selected from just a handful of clubs and would regularly be involved in top European fixtures.

Beyond what has been published on Premiership Rugby’s own site, nothing else has yet been confirmed, but as more and more details begin to emerge fans and pundits alike will begin to consider the ramifications of the new EPS agreement on England rugby as a whole.

These new changes look like they could fundamentally alter the very make-up of professional rugby in England and have a knock-on effect for the national side.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.