Amidst talk of banning tackling at school level and of increasing injuries at all levels of the game, one hot pre-season topic has been forgotten.
Saracens raised the point that if they were to pay the likes of Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Jamie George, and Mako Vunipola their market rate as world class players and top level British and Irish Lions, they would no longer be able to keep them and remain in the salary cap, they would have to get rid of some of them.
Now, setting aside Saracens’ alleged salary cap ‘indifference’ of the past, this is actually a really good point.
Saracens have brought these players through their academy and developed them and now that they have developed them to a world class level, they are going to struggle to be allowed to afford to keep them.
It is not like they are trying to bring in players from outside on huge wages, in this case, they are simply trying to pay home-grown talent a fair wage.
Let us consider another issue. For a long time clubs at the bottom end of the league, or even a couple of Championship sides, have struggled to hold on to their best academy products.
Take a look at London Irish, for example, who produced and continue to produce some wonderful talents but so often have seen them lost. Look at Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, and Tom Homer moving to Bath, Marland Yarde to Harlequins, and many others.
The issue is that clubs higher up the league can offer more chance of silverware, perhaps a better chance of international honours, and often more cash.
So let’s look at those two problems as a whole. Clubs at the top end of the league with successful academies who hold on to those young players and develop them into world class talent struggle to be able to afford to keep them if there are a good number of the, and clubs at the bottom with successful academies also struggle to hold onto them in part because of the same reason, and in part because bigger fish come in to poach the talent, and the players naturally want to move up the ladder.
So what can be done? One idea that seems like it could do the trick would be to make all players brought through your academy system exempt from the salary cap, or placed under a much higher salary cap, and then to dramatically reduce the salary cap for players that have been brought in from outside the academy.
This would mean that all clubs would be able to pay home-grown talent a wage that matches their market value, and would also have the effect of making clubs very careful about who they bring in from overseas.
For clubs nearer the bottom struggling to hold on to their talent it would also help, they would be in a position to make those home-grown players very well paid, and would have the security of knowing that other clubs in the league would have to be very careful about buying in other clubs’ talent because they would only have a tight amount of salary cap to fit them into. This would make it more attractive to academy products to stay put, and any move to another Premiership club would likely mean they were moving as a real headline player, not just a wider squad player.
Like any solution though, this one likely has plenty of flaws, and as ever in rugby there would likely be a huge number of unintended consequences. So, what do you think those unintended consequences might be, and what other potential solutions to the issue do you think there are if indeed there need to be any solutions at all?