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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste