“When money talks, I hate to listen, but lately it’s been screaming in my ear.” Ben Folds
Here’s some news for you: Billy Vunipola has agreed terms with Racing Metro; Courtney Lawes has gone to Pau; Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler have been lured by Toulouse; Stade Francais have signed Manu Tuilagi; whilst Jonathan Joseph and Jack Nowell have both put pen to paper with Toulon. France’s Top 14 has plundered England’s Hatton Garden safe deposit box and made off with some the Prem’s most prized assets.
Of course, this is all hypothetical; I’ve made it up. The respective clubs in England have all benefitted from the signature of the above thanks to Stuart Lancaster’s forthright stance on overseas exports. He won’t pick players not playing in England, for England. An ideology put in place to protect the nation’s club game from the power of salaries on offer from across the channel. This has come under scrutiny of late, as the likes of Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage have both helped Top 14 outfits to the final of Europe’s leading Club Competition. But Lancaster has kept his word, nodded regretfully and declared, “We should be able to do well without them. Whatever Woodward says…”
But what of the above? What if the players (and agents) all got together and said, you know what, they won’t be able to survive without the likes of us. If we all go to France, as one, they’ll have to cave in. They can’t ‘not pick’ all of us. We can have our gateau and eat it.
Wales’ best players went. The cash flashed and players took their chances. Some only got as far as Gloucester but nevertheless Gatland’s law is currently being flouted; France welcomed some of the principality’s finest freight with open arms. According to Roger Lewis, the Wales RFU CEO, as of March this year, dear old Wazza owns the right not to pick his first choice fullback, centres, halfback, blindside, lock forward and hooker, if he wants. But Gatland won’t want. Gatland can’t. The hole is a bit too big, isn’t it?
Many have come out in support of England’s top man. Lancaster’s principles are admired and, according to players in the inner sanctum, have created a unity to be respected. Opening the door again would cause disharmony. So, at the moment, England’s best players remain in the Aviva Premiership. That, naturally, pleases the top flight’s Directors of Rugby. Lancaster’s principles are the safety pin which currently keeps everything in place. Unfasten it, and the sport unravels pretty quickly.
But let’s just look at it objectively; metaphorically; from a business point of view. Rugby, as we are often told, is now a business. You are a player. You are a ‘company’ that is making good money. You are regarded as one of your country’s top companies and you get a little bit of money any time someone brings out a list naming you in a best fifteen. However, after research, you discover the profit of your business would improve dramatically, if you took your company to France. The marketplace over there would be able to pay you nearly double for your services. Exactly what you do in England, but for twice the money. Some of the other companies in France, doing what you do, the ones you could work with and learn from, are the best in the world. Add in the fact that an unforeseen accident could change your output immeasurably, maybe even shut down your company, and things really start to make sense. In fact, the longevity of your business is finite isn’t it? There aren’t many high-yield years; shouldn’t you make as much hay as you can?
The England representational carrot is sweetened somewhat by what must be seen as the most important World Cup of a generation. The chance to play for England in England on the world’s greatest rugby stage, currently outweighs France’s appeal. But what about post RWC ’15? Do the scales tip a little?
Having performed well in the widest shop window come October, and having subsequently popped another £50k on a potential annual salary, what’s to say there won’t be an exodus next year? Interesting to see recently announced signings by Premiership Clubs have withheld the details of the length of new contracts. The cynical side of me wonders if some of these are shorter than we think. The threat of French clubs makes this somewhat of a players’ market. If I was at the top of my game, I wouldn’t be signing too long a contract at the moment; negotiate well and often. Interesting, yet dangerous times for England’s club and international game.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.