Rugby Union: Game's spirit burns in Cup's poor relations

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The Independent Online
THERE IS a distinct cash divide running through the first Rugby World Cup of the professional era; to the have-nots it must look like a chasm, to the haves it will regarded as natural, unavoidable.

While there will be some players who could earn close on pounds 100,000 from their union if they reach the final and win the World Cup, there are countries who can barely afford to buy the kit for their 30-strong squads.

Yet the poor have still turned up, game to participate even though they will receive nothing for taking part. Although it has been hard for them to attract sponsorship or, indeed, financial backing of any kind, they crystallise the spirit which still burns in some corners of a game which is seemingly losing much of its old ethos.

At least they are helped out as far as travel and accommodation costs go, and last week the International Rugby Board awarded grants to the eight non-council members to assist with their participation in the Rugby World Cup.

The eight countries, Fiji, Namibia, Romania, Spain, Tonga, Uruguay, United States and Samoa, have received pounds 30,000 to be used variously for kit, per diem payments to players, costs in assembling squads and extra insurance costs.

But while that is a massive boost for the lesser lights, man for man the wealth gap remains. If England win the Webb Ellis Trophy will pick up around pounds 90,000 a man; the breakdown of that sum being a basic payment of pounds 32,000, bonuses totalling pounds 48,000 for each match won and a pounds 10,000 handshake for winning the tournament.

Wales players could end up with similar pay, although their wage structure is based on caps and experience. Every player receives pounds 5,000 for being in the squad, there is pounds 5,000 up for grabs for every win (a maximum of six matches) with pounds 10,000 each on offer for the three knock-out matches.

In addition players will receive pounds 75 for every cap they have won over five. Therefore someone with Neil Jenkins' experience could end up the best part of pounds 95,000 better off if the host nation lifts the World Cup. Even the less experienced members of the squad will pick up around pounds 60,000 if Wales go all the way.

The South Africans, who are on an annual retainer of between pounds 48,000 and pounds 60,000 per man, stand to earn pounds 40,000 if the Rainbow Nation makes a successful defence of the trophy they won on home soil in 1995.

For the All Blacks, who are contracted to the New Zealand RFU for the whole year and whose earnings vary, a star player such as Christian Cullen picks up between pounds 85,000 and pounds 100,000, while relative rookies such as Reuben Thorne receive around a third of that - there is no specific World Cup fee.

Those are the haves. The have-nots are exemplified by Tonga. Their pay structure is simple. They will receive $1,000 (pounds 625) for every match won. No win, no pay. And even Canada are on only pounds 40 per day, according to their captain, Gareth Rees.

All that the less well off nations can hope for is a modicum of success and for rugby to become even more popular as a result. Then perhaps some of the wealth wolfed by the pack at the top may filter down to those who need it as much.