Rugby Union : Folly of new paradise

Chris Hewett hears that players' professional wages cannot be sustained
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The Independent Online
They used to be known, rather patronisingly, as the "lay-by on the M6" and there are many who confidently expect Orrell to disappear up the fast lane to oblivion as the harsh realities of professional rugby begin to bite. Despite the fact that they came within a last-minute drop goal of winning the Courage League title only four seasons ago, the Lancashire club are widely assumed to be among the brave new world's also-rans.

Peter Williams, their resourceful director of rugby, has other ideas. But the former England World Cup fly-half - a good enough footballer to win international honours as a rugby league player after defecting in 1988 - is alarmed at the prospect of substantial amounts of money evaporating above Tuesday's negotiating table.

"We'd certainly struggle without the money agreed under the original deal," he admitted. "We wouldn't go to the wall, because we've been exceptionally prudent at Orrell in recent months, unlike some other clubs. But we'd sooner not put it to the test.

"What amazes me is how the RFU can vote in professionalism without giving the clubs any money. As far as we are concerned, they've just disappeared off the scene and left us to get on with it. It beggars belief.

"I saw clubs go under during my time in league and it's not a pleasant thing. But have the RFU looked at the professional game up north to see what can and can't be done? Obviously not. There should have been restrictions imposed on all clubs in the first year of professionalism, starting with a ceiling on salaries. That would have saved us from the ridiculous excesses we've seen this summer.

"It's a players' paradise at the moment; you can't blame them for taking the money on offer but it's absolutely clear that a lot of cash is being thrown away. Players are being offered pounds 45,000 plus a year when even they must know they are not worth anything like that amount. A full house at Richmond probably wouldn't pay Scott Quinnell's wages. It's ludicrous."

Orrell have formulated a three-year business plan based on sound housekeeping and realistic wages. It assumes no outside income, from Sky or anyone else, although there are talks with a potential big sponsor.

"We are extremely well run and have been for some time," Williams said. "We have no debts and a good asset base. We are not paying silly money, either."

That stance may have cost Orrell the services of their former captain and England scrum-half, Dewi Morris, who has joined their near neighbours, Sale. But Williams insisted: "I think we could have matched Sale's offer to Dewi. We just didn't know he was even considering playing again."