There has been immense debate over the last few days regarding the salary cap in the Aviva Premiership and whether it has prevented English clubs from competing in Europe. From all the talk, one would have thought that Premiership sides had a torrid time in the Heineken Cup last weekend, however was that really the case?
Short of Leicester’s abysmal performance and result at Ulster, there is nothing to suggest that the English are at a significant disadvantage. If they were, how could a very talented Scarlets side fall to Northampton, with the latter being down to 14 men at one stage of the game?
Or take Bath Rugby’s loss in Montpellier, a 22-24 scoreline is certainly nothing to be ashamed about considering a)The match was away in France and b) The Bath squad is at best very average and in all probability may not even qualify for next year’s tournament.
Therefore when Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill effectively put his side’s Ravenhill mauling down to the £4million salary cap in the Premiership, it has actually come across as sour grapes. The fact of the matter is that on Friday night, the Tigers simply could not perform. Cockerill claims that his squad that lacked the depth of their Irish counterparts and that was what punished them. As someone who watched the match, this claim is false.
Using the salary cap as a reason for being uncompetitive is not a valid excuse. It also has to do with a good academy, good coaching and team discipline to be competitive which evidently Leicester do not have. The Harlequins and Saracens on the other hand do contain these three elements and as such can mix it with the best in Europe, especially the giants of the Top 14 in France. Quins having recorded a memorable victory at Toulouse in December and Sarries doing enough to see off Biarritz on Saturday are certainly evidence enough that the English have the ability to compete at the highest level.
The Top 14 has a salary cap of around €8.7million, significantly more than the Premiership’s £4million. However, having such a high cap has also led to financial problems for several French clubs over the years, most significantly Bourgoin and Brive who have had to cut payroll in recent times due to overspending and even more significantly Montauban who had to file for bankruptcy in 2010 due to the high costs involved in running a Top 14 club.
If the cap is significantly increased like Mr Cockerill wants, it may benefit big clubs such as Leicester and Northampton who regularly get fans through the gate and who are seeing immense growth in their average attendances year on year. However, what about the smaller clubs such as Sale Sharks or Newcastle Falcons? These stalwarts of the Premiership will be decimated as they cannot produce the sort of finance that both the Tigers and Saints can and as a result may risk folding.
In the very early days of professionalism, the top tier of English rugby contained such clubs as Bedford Blues, London Scottish, Orrell, Richmond and West Hartlepool- once proud rugby clubs with great histories and all of whom found it extremely difficult to compete at a professional level. Surely this should serve as a lesson to all involved with Premier Rugby that a salary cap is the best way to not only preserve competitiveness in the league, but also English rugby’s proud heritage. I for one would certainly take that before any European success.