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Rugby's rich list: The world's highest-paid players in 2021

By Sam Smith

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A former All Blacks star and a World Cup-winning Springbok have jointly topped an updated list of rugby’s highest-played players.

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A year-and-a-half after WalesOnline published a list of the sport’s 15 top earners, ruck.co.uk has released its own top 10 rich list.

The website outlined that estimations had been made based on “figures on reports from Forbes, reputable news outlets and a variety of official sources to get us as close to the mark as possible”.

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All Blacks react to 104-14 victory over USA Eagles
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All Blacks react to 104-14 victory over USA Eagles

“All figures mentioned are before tax and do not include the array of bonuses and extra fees stashed away in the fine print of every contract. Players’ various sponsorship deals are also not included but, in some cases, add zeroes to the end of their pay cheques.”

The list released by ruck.co.uk shows some movers and shakers from last year’s list from WalesOnline.

Springboks halfback Faf de Klerk, Ireland first-five Johnny Sexton, England midfielder Manu Tuilagi, Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg, France halfback Morgan Parra, Los Pumas first-five Nicolas Sanchez, Wales first-five Dan Biggar and ex-All Blacks loose forward Steven Luatua don’t feature on the updated list.

Conversely, three players who didn’t make last year’s WalesOnline list have made the cut by ruck.co.uk‘s estimates.

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All in all, the updated list features three Springboks, two All Blacks, two Englishmen, one Wallaby, one Frenchman and one Scot, all of whom – bar two players, who both featured in the Top League this year – play their club rugby in Europe.

With all of that in mind, here is ruck.co.uk‘s list of the 10 highest-paid players in 2021:

9 = Owen Farrell (England/Saracens) – £750,000

Owen Farrell is among the Premiership’s top-earners heading into the final year of his Saracens contract after helping guide the London-based club back to England’s top-flight this season following their their relegation into the RFU Championship due to salary cap breaches.

9 = Michael Hooper (Australia/Toyota Verblitz) – £750,000 (A$1.38m/¥117.54m)

Michael Hooper’s decision to skip this year’s Super Rugby with the Waratahs and take sabbatical in the Top League with Toyota Verblitz proved a lucrative one that made the Wallabies captain the highest-paid Australian player this year.

7 = Beauden Barrett (New Zealand/Suntory Sungoliath) – £780,000 (NZ$1.5m/¥122.24m)

Like Hooper, Beauden Barrett missed this year’s Super Rugby campaign with the Blues to take up a sabbatical deal with Suntory Sungoliath in the Top League in a move that makes him the top-paid current All Black and the Top League’s highest-earner.

7 = Virimi Vakatawa (France/Racing 92) – £780,000 (€921,924)

A new name on this list after missing out on WalesOnline’s selection last year, New Zealand-born, Fijian-raised French star Virimi Vakatawa is reportedly rugby’s seventh-equal best-paid player at Top 14 outfit Racing 92.

6. Maro Itoje (England/Saracens) – £800,000

Farrell’s England and Saracens teammate Maro Itoje has been ranked as the highest-paid English player, but he would have added an extra £200,000 to his salary had Racing 92 ceded to his demands when the Parisian club sought his signature last year.

4 = Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa/Toulon) – £850,000 (R17.32m/€1m)

The star of the 2019 World Cup, Cheslin Kolbe broke his way onto rugby’s rich list when earned himself a fortune with his off-season move from French and European champions Toulouse to domestic rivals Toulon.

4 = Finn Russell (Scotland/Racing 92) – £850,000 (€1m)

In a £315,000 mark-up from last year’s estimations by WalesOnline, exciting Scotland playmaker Finn Russell has been ranked as Britain’s highest-paid player with Racing 92.

3. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa/Toulon) – £900,000 (R18.34m/€1.06m)

Into his second season of his three-year deal with Toulon, giant Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth – another newbie on this list – sits as the highest-paid forward in professional rugby.

1 = Charles Piutau (New Zealand/Bristol Bears) – £1m (NZ$1.92m)

Retaining his place as rugby’s joint-equal top-earner, former All Blacks utility back Charles Piutau – who remains on the radar of Tonga in a what would be a massive international eligibility switch – became the sport’s first million-pound player when he joined the Bristol Bears in 2017.

1 = Handre Pollard (South Africa/Montpellier) – £1m (R20.38m/€1.18m)

Like Piutau, Springboks pivot Handre Pollard remains at the summit of rugby’s highest-earners following his move from the Bulls to Montpellier following the 2019 World Cup.

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Rugby's rich list: The world's highest-paid players in 2021

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