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Alex Sanderson: ‘The game could die unless something dramatically changes’

By Liam Heagney
Sale boss Alex Sanderson (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Sale boss Alex Sanderson has described the proposed introduction of hybrid RFU contracts in England for Steve Borthwick’s leading players as a long-awaited, game-changing development that can help the sport survive in the long term.


The Gallagher Premiership has been riddled with financial concerns since its inception, a shortfall exacerbated by the pandemic and the subsequent loss of three clubs – Worcester, Wasps and London Irish – last season, reducing the top flight from a 13-team tournament to 10 for 2023/24.

One of the solutions put forward to try and lessen the burden of high wages for leading players has been the introduction of a new hybrid contracting system whereby 25 of England’s players can have part of their salary subsidized by the RFU.

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Joe Simmonds on potential England selection

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Joe Simmonds on potential England selection

In return for these deals, where the RFU would pay a larger sum to clubs than the current £40,000 awarded for each player supplied to the elite player squad (EPS), England boss Borthwick would have more say on each player’s conditioning, game time and position at club level.

Rather than host mid-winter England mini-camps, Borthwick has visited all 10 Premiership clubs to meet a wider group of players to discuss their progress and his plans for the next period and he met with players, including the Curry twins, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi, Bevan Rodd and Jonny Hill, last month when he visited Manchester.


Sale director of rugby Sanderson was delighted with the visit and he believes that hybrid contracting will be a positive step forward when the proposed deal is eventually rubberstamped. “I do because we want the lads, our young English players to play for England,” he said when asked by RugbyPass what his view was on the proposed new system.

“We want that to happen because it is their aspiration. What it does is take a bit of weight off us in terms of the salary cap because you get allowances for that and also in terms of their individual salaries because they would be guaranteed up to £160,000 a year I think so for many reasons it works for us, it helps us and it rewards those teams who have a larger contingent of English qualified players.”


If hybrid contracting is expected to be such a good thing for English rugby, why isn’t it already in situ in a country that won its only Rugby World Cup way back in 2003?

“The Premiership, the PRL and the RFU have just seemingly been opposing forces, vying for time with the players, and it for the most part being a financial transaction as opposed to what is for the betterment of the game,” Sanderson replied.

“Over the last four years, since covid, there has been a coming together; the game could die unless something dramatically changes. Also, the agreement that has been in place has been eight years long so we have been skipping through large periods, almost decades worth of seasons, without the ability to change it because contracts and agreements have been in place.

“Now we have the opportunity to make radical changes and this is one, taking the best things from Ireland, from New Zealand, from all those centrally contracted unions; where you have got more influence over them [the players], they have a greater allegiance to country than club whereas at times it might have been the other way around in this country. We can hopefully close the gap a little bit just on that front.


“I don’t think I’m of much influence, to be honest, there is very little by way of up management that I can do that has an effect but seemingly my understanding of the RFU – this is not a negative thing – because it is such a big organisation, 600 people work in it, steeped in tradition, and with people who are still there from the amateur period.

“It takes a long time for things that are not just said but are right to come to the fore and get actioned on. It has to go through a lot of people and a lot of conversations and at that point sometimes the opportunity and the momentum is gone to make a change.

“Seemingly there has been a bit of a shift recently and I can feel it in terms of my relationship with the senior coaches and long may that continue as we look to make the game better.”


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1 Comment
Colin 167 days ago

Love Alex Sanderson’s after match interviews, moments to enjoy!

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