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Marquee player rule change creating headaches for Prem clubs

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Trending on RugbyPass

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A recent change to the marquee player rule is causing issues behind the scenes for Gallagher Premiership clubs.

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According to salary cap regulations, Gallagher Premiership clubs are allowed two ‘excluded players’ – commonly known as marquee players, who are positioned outside of the £5 million salary cut.

It allows clubs with deep enough pockets to fork out large salaries for select players, giving them to the ability to compete with France, Japan, and to a lesser extent, the URC for top overseas talent. It is also there to protect valuable homegrown players from being tempted by lucrative deals abroad. Premiership teams tend to keep the identities of their marquee players close to their chest and under the regulations, no Premiership side has a right to know the marquee players at other clubs.

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However, from the 2022/23 season the two-player rule will end, with clubs reduced to one marquee player. The rub is that the reduction only comes into effect once a marquee player’s current contract has come to its natural end.

Premier Rugby state: “Excluded players will reduce to one player, except for where a club has a current contract in place for two excluded players. In that scenario, both players may remain as excluded players until the first of their current contracts expire. The decision to reduce from two excluded players to one is based on balancing financial sustainability while still attracting the best talent from around the world to the league.”

What this basically means is that clubs who have both marquee players under long-term contracts can effectively keep two ‘excluded’ big-name players in their squad, even as others are reduced to one, at least to the end of the shortest of the two contracts.

Likewise, clubs who had marquee players on shorter-term contracts – and RugbyPass understands there are plenty – are now feeling the pinch as they find themselves in the position of having to fit a marquee player back into their £5 million salary cap – who may have been on as much as £500,000 or more.

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This is resulting in an even bigger squeeze on contract negotiations, as normal senior squad players who are seeking to bounce back up from their 25 per cent pandemic salary cut in 2020 are met with recruitment staff that are struggling to keep everyone happy.

The result of the current salary squeeze can be seen this season, with any number of high-profile transfers grabbing headlines in recent weeks. Vincent Koch to Wasps, George Ford to Sale, Ellis Genge to Bristol Bears and Jonny Hill to Sale Sharks have all made waves after a relatively quiet transfer market 12 months ago. While not all of these transfers are a direct result t of the squeeze, they’re part of a landscape of intense negotiations at many clubs.

“What I am finding mainly at the moment is the majority of ballpark salary expectations coming in are still salaries that you would still expect to be paying if it was a £6.4million market,” said Exeter Chiefs DoR Rob Baxter, just a week prior to Hill leaving the club. “It doesn’t really seem to be at this stage that kind of realisation that it is a big drop off. In theory, it is probably a bit more than a 25 per cent drop off when you start talking about second marquee players disappearing next season if they are not under contract.”

There is some light at the end of the tunnel in this regard though, as from the 2024-2015 season as the senior player cap will jump back up to £6.4 million. Across a 40-man, that’s an extra £35,000 per man.

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In the meantime, you expect more big-name transfers.

 

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