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Pat Lam reveals when Premiership squad cuts are expected to be imposed

By Chris Jones
Pat Lam, Director of Rugby of Bristol Bears, speaks to players of Bristol Bears as they huddle after the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Bristol Bears at Sandy Park on November 05, 2023 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam does not expect maximum squad sizes to be imposed on Gallagher Premiership clubs as part of the new Professional Game Partnership with the Rugby Football Union until 2025.

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Lam met up with other Premiership DORs yesterday along with Nigel Melville, Executive Chairman at PRL Investor Board, Conor O’Shea representing the RFU and Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, to debate the proposals that would see clubs operating with a maximum senior squad of 35 players with a further 12 players in a ‘transition’ group from their academy.

The move is key to the negotiations taking place on central funding for the Premiership from the RFU, understood to be worth £128 million over the next four years.

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A dramatic cut in squad sizes would have a significant impact on some Premiership clubs with Bath and Harlequins highlighted as operating with two of the largest squads in the league.

It is designed to try and steer the Premiership clubs towards a more stable financial future after decades of losses. A salary cap has not ended the annual losses and that is why smaller squad sizes are seen as the next step for the professional sport in England.

Lam, who takes his Bristol team to Newcastle on Friday night with the aim of avoiding a third successive loss at Kingston Park, said: “It is unlikely (to come in) next year but probably the year after. There will be time given because every club is at different ends of their cycles and we are coming out of a three year (contract) cycle. Everything has to go back to the owners and the board because they have the ultimate say but the good thing is that we are all in the room together and we want what is best for the game.

“There is a salary cap, but it is around making sure you are prudent and there are a lot of players on the market and some of the top ones are going to command some big dollars. As a club you have to ask yourself how you balance that out with the squad size. The way they have worked out the (maximum) number is that they have looked at injuries for the last six seven years. It is not just a number they have put out there and it is aimed at having the strongest possible squad that is also affordable so we stabilise the clubs going forward. It’s about making it better for everyone.

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“Is it perfect? Nothing is, but there is a real desire to improve the game in England at international and domestic level. The Premiership was the focus but everyone realises that the Championship is also part of the agreement and there needs to be strong competition.

“The success of the Premiership clubs in the Champions Cup shows how tough this competition is and we sit third from bottom in the league but are just 10 points off the top.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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