RUGBY UNION: Premiership banking on salary caps

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THREATENED WITH a 15-a-side version of the Great Crash - Richmond are in financial administration, half a dozen other Premiership clubs are flirting dangerously with bankruptcy - English rugby yesterday bit the bullet of common sense and brought some much-needed sanity to the economics of the madhouse. The money men behind the 14 clubs in the top flight of the Allied Dunbar Championship agreed to cap salaries next season in an effort to stabilise a financial situation that has been out of control since the onset of professionalism almost four years ago.

"The clubs are looking at ways of redirecting their outgoings while maximising their income," said Howard Thomas, the chief executive of English First Division Rugby. "Playing squad costs remain the single largest expense and the clubs intend to focus on improving facilities and standards of operation. The idea of capping wages is accepted by all the clubs as a necessity to ensure long-term viability."

In other words, more money will be spent on pulling in the crowds and less on filling the players' pockets - pretty good news for anyone who has attempted to watch Bath play from the Recreation Ground terraces. Firm details have yet to be agreed - talks will be held over the next month and an agreement tabled at the April meeting of the EFDR board - but the clubs are seeking to impose a wage ceiling of around pounds 1.5m per Premiership One squad per season. That would allow clubs a degree of flexibility in deciding how many players to contract and how much cash to throw at their big names.

Thomas said the EFDR clubs, who are still at loggerheads with the organisers of the European Cup and are by no means certain to declare a truce in time for next week's meeting of the competition's board, had also agreed to co-ordinate all marketing and commercial activity as a means of maximising efficiency and revenue. "It makes sense," said Thomas, the former Sale chief executive. "It allows us to build a valuable brand by marketing first division rugby to sponsors, broadcasters and the public as a single sporting proposition."

One man who will not be costing anyone any money next year is the Bath wing Jim Fallon, who threw away an England career by signing a pounds 200,000 rugby league deal with Leeds in 1992. The 33-year-old England A cap has retired after doctors warned him he risked serious eye damage if he continued to play. Fallon already has impaired vision in his right eye, despite two operations on a detached retina. "I've lost some peripheral vision and it would have been dangerous to carry on," he said yesterday.

A powerhouse of a wing in the John Bentley mould - in purely physical terms, he was the nearest thing to a prototype Jonah Lomu England ever produced - Fallon was an influential member of Bath's double-winning side of 1992; indeed, he turned pro immediately after helping the West Country club to a famous extra-time cup final victory over Harlequins. At that point he was on the verge of an international breakthrough, having won six England A caps and played for the Barbarians when that still meant something.

He returned to union to join the Richmond "revolution" - which has since devoured its own by making 34 people redundant - but moved back to Bath last summer after slipping behind Spencer Brown and Dominic Chapman in the Londoners' pecking order. He is the only player to have made cup final appearances in both codes.

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