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Pat Lam breaks his silence over alleged Bristol salary cap trouble

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

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Bristol boss Pat Lam has broken his silence about allegations that the Bears have started a player fire sale to ensure they come in under the salary cap for the 2022/23 season following an administrative error. Ex-England second row Dave Attwood was unveiled as a Bath signing this past week amid reports that six players needed to be offloaded after a missed deadline allegedly left Bristol potentially facing a £400,000 overspend. 

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It was Thursday night when the UK Telegraph published its damaging story relating to the backroom manoeuvrings that originally happened in summer 2020 when the Premiership opted to reduce its salary cap from £6.4million to £5m.

A clause allowed clubs to only count 75 per cent of contracts against the revised cap, something that resulted in a host of clubs renegotiating the existing deals they had with players prior to the July 1 deadline two years ago.

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As a consequence, numerous deals became ‘two-plus-one’, two-year deals with the option of a third year in 2022. However, it was alleged that Bristol have now missed a deadline and it resulted in these third-year extensions kicking in, leaving them with a potential budgetary overspend ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. 

The Telegraph claimed: “Even if those players are paid off, it is understood that would still count against the salary cap, so Bristol are now having to make savings wherever they can. Including their marquee players, Bristol had one of the biggest wage bills in the Premiership and an emergency board meeting was convened when the mistake came to light in March.”

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Bristol declined to provide a comment at the time of the story’s publication to the Telegraph and instead waited until Friday afternoon to release a short statement that read: “Bristol Bears are aware of reports in the Telegraph on Thursday, March 31. The club reiterates its commitment to salary cap compliance and we continue to work closely with PRL. We categorically state that we have been, we are and will continue to be under the salary cap.

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“As per previous seasons, the majority of our recruitment for the 2022/23 campaign has been done early, with new arrivals and player retention details to be announced in the next few weeks.”

Director of rugby Lam has now had his say on the delicate matter, addressing the Bristol salary cap speculation when interviewed on BT Sport ahead of Saturday’s latest Premiership defeat at Northampton. “A DoR’s job is one of the most exciting jobs going around,” he began.

“It’s like the weather in England really, you get the sunshine and then you get the rain, you get everything really but the sun always comes out. Yeah, I’m not going to comment on the internal process because everything we are doing is about trying to get better and learning from mistakes and so forth but ultimately, as we said in the statement, we have always been under the salary cap, we are going to continue to be under the cap and that is not an issue. 

“Then as far as the squad goes, I do a lot of my work early and for our fans out there our squad is going to continue to improve and be stronger than it currently is which is the aim. There is always little moments and stuff but ultimately we are in a good place.”

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Asked if Attwood going to Bath was a direct consequence of the reported Bristol salary cap issue, Lam added: “No, the big thing is every year the team changes and, as I said, the majority of the people we want to keep were all done early and then you get down to this stage as you go through.

“But ultimately you have seen the challenge that we all face as DoRs in every club with the salary cap drop is every week there is a senior player leaving one club to another and there is also the risk that there is going to be players who might not have contracts right across the Premiership, so that is just the nature that we are all facing.” 

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