Rugby Union: Big-spending Quins call for salary cap

Two of English rugby's most extravagant spenders yesterday painted a bleak picture of the game's financial future.

As Harlequins and Saracens count the cost of professionalism, Chris Hewett examines the fall-out from two years of madhouse economics.

Earlier this week, Harlequins ended months of patient negotiation by confirming Zinzan Brooke, the great All Black No 8, as their big-name signing for next season. They intend to pay him a reported pounds 350,000 over the next two years, so it was just a little rich to hear Guy Williams, the Londoners' financial director, call yesterday for the introduction of a salary cap.

Even more astonishingly, Williams singled out his own club's spiralling expenditure on foreign talent as symptomatic of the wider financial difficulties hovering over England's leading professional clubs. "Players know their power in demanding higher salaries and it is out of control," he said. "It is detrimental to English rugby and there has to be a reappraisal in order to put in place a salary structure to cover all four home unions. Otherwise we will reach a situation where clubs in the First and Second Divisions will suffer greatly."

Williams' fears were echoed by Nigel Wray of Saracens, although the owner of the Watford-based club approached the issue from a different angle by blaming his balance-sheet problems on the number of matches sardined into a chaotic fixture list.

"I have lost millions through my involvement," he said. "The top clubs are being forced to shut down on nine lucrative weekends to accommodate four pre-Christmas internationals and the Five Nations' Championship, which is crazy. A professional sport cannot limp along like this; the major investors will not pump in money season after season if club games are going to be disrupted."

Both clubs are not alone in their discomfort. One recent estimate put the combined operating losses of England's top-flight clubs at pounds 15m and although all but a couple have managed to attract substantial sugar-daddy investment, there are disturbing signs that the novelty is beginning to wear off.

Harlequins have lost their original "fat cat", John Beckwith, after only a single season's involvement. Beckwith, who pumped pounds 3m into the Stoop last year, has sold his share of the club to Duncan Saville, an Australian businessman, although he retains a 10 per cent interest. Saville, who has invested an extra pounds 1m, now owns 39 per cent of Quins, with the outstanding 51 per cent in the hands of the trustees.

The new deal will ease the worries of a club which shelled out pounds 1.5m in wages and lost a seven-figure sum last season, but Williams, a chartered accountant, believes there is urgent need for action on a united front. "The potential from rugby is huge, but not instantaneous," he said. "The overheads are instantaneous, however. If, for example, Newcastle make a big purchase, this has a rippling effect down to other clubs."

Newcastle, who sent the money-go-round spinning off the face of the earth by signing another New Zealander, Va'aiga Tuigamala, on a Brooke-sized contract midway through last season, are unlikely to be impressed by Williams' plea for a salary cap. Sir John Hall, the Geordies' fiercely independent owner, is convinced that hard cash will bring tangible rewards.

But he may well support Wray's push for a revamped fixture list loaded in favour of the professional clubs. Wray wants to limit England's pre- Christmas activity to two internationals and backs a shorter, sharper Five Nations format.

"The fixture schedule does not give us a level playing field and without a club system, there is no basis for investment," he said. "But I believe we could be in a healthy position in five years if we get the right leadership."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy