England players set for large pay hike


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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union and the nation's leading players have agreed a four-year deal that could make England's squad the highest-paid in world rugby.

The arrangement covers England's senior, Saxons and Under-20 squads until 30 June 2016, and includes confirmation of squad and match fees and performance bonuses.

The RFU's chief executive, Ian Ritchie, insisted the figures involved remain confidential. But it is believed that a layered structure involving bonus payments for Tests and titles won, and incorporating details concerning the 2015 World Cup, mean a member of the Elite Player Squad could earn up to £120,000 a year playing for England, separate from their club contracts.

The EPS deal for 2012 was broken down as follows: players received £9,224 if selected for the 23-man match squad. They also received a win bonus of £3,075, and the squad would have shared £500,000 had they won a Six Nations Grand Slam.

The RFU said that together with an existing Heads of Agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, it ensured "a stable future for club and country" beyond the next World Cup, which England host.

The deal is a further boost for the England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, who is preparing for the Six Nations on the back of a record 38-21 victory over the world champions, New Zealand, last month.

"This agreement is another major step forward for the RFU, players and the clubs," Ritchie said at Twickenham today. "I would like to thank the Rugby Players' Association and Premiership Rugby for their co-operation and for reinforcing the partnership we enjoy.

"One of the strengths of the English game is that we have enshrined in contract the release of players from their clubs, which gives Stuart Lancaster and his coaches confidence in their availability," he added.

"Now this new agreement with the players has been reached, we have stability and everyone pulling in the right direction through to the Rugby World Cup and beyond."

The news was also welcomed by the RPA chief executive, former England centre Damian Hopley. "All parties wanted to ensure that we built on the foundations and progress made by Stuart Lancaster and the squad during the past 12 months," he said.

"The new contract duly recognises the efforts made by all 33 of the senior EPS, as well as the increasing overall value of the players to the RFU and their partners. We look forward to working collaboratively with the England squad and the RFU to deliver these rights, and I would like to thank the England Players' Committee for their invaluable and professional input throughout these good-natured negotiations."

Premiership Rugby's chief executive, Mark McCafferty, said: "We are delighted to be playing our part in giving Stuart Lancaster and the England team everything they need on the road to 2015.

"We look forward to the continued support of the players and the RFU to ensure Aviva Premiership rugby goes from strength to strength."

Clearly, the healthy atmosphere between the RFU and elite players contrasts sharply to the somewhat rancorous state of affairs leading up to the ultimately underwhelming World Cup performance in New Zealand in 2011.

Lancaster's open and embracing attitude towards all concerned, a firm but fair hand on the tiller, has helped hugely to bring about a far happier and relaxed environment without losing an iota of professional edge as they prepare for the Six Nations.

And Ritchie's attitude mirrors that. "The most important aspect of all this from the RFU standpoint is that the players receive a decent, fair and well-deserved recompense," he said. "They are valued hugely by the RFU, and we want them to know that."

Corbisiero signs up with Saints

Northampton have confirmed the signing of the England prop Alex Corbisiero.

Corbisiero, 24, who has won 18 Test caps, will move to Franklin's Gardens from London Irish at the end of this season.

The London Irish rugby director, Brian Smith, said: "We are sad to see Alex go. We made him a very attractive offer to stay earlier this season but, unfortunately, Alex feels his future is elsewhere."