Cost-cutting tactics among Premiership clubs could lead to a player 'cull' as teams seek to adjust in the wake of the league's salary cap being reduced from £6.4million to just £5million this season.
That's the concern according to Damian Hopley, chief executive of the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA), who has warned the mid-level talent in England's first tier could be the ones to suffer due to wage restrictions.
Premiership rugby clubs unanimously agreed to reduce the salary cap from £7m (including £600,000 in credits for homegrown players) in the wake of the economic impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the purse strings are set to tighten again at the end of this term when clubs will be limited to just one 'marquee' player whose wages don't count towards the cap – half the current two-player allowance.
And Hopley has spoken of his concern that the rush to balance books will leave a raft of Premiership players by the wayside.
“There are a lot of nervous people out there and the situation is very precarious at the moment,” he told the Daily Mail.
“With a 28 per cent cut in the salary cap, as well as all the significant cuts which took place during the Covid lockdowns, there is concern among mid-ranking players that they could be culled as part of squad reductions.”
League-leading Leicester Tigers are currently under investigation by Premiership Rugby relating to potential salary cap breaches that are understood to centre around the period between 2016 and 2020.
The recent revelation came not long after English superpower Saracens returned to the first tier this term, having been relegated in 2020 for using image rights as one means of circumventing the cap in past years.
It's understood Premiership Rugby is open to increasing the salary cap back to its former levels in future seasons, though the pandemic still poses major issues regarding sudden losses in rugby.
The Premiership has also been plagued by an ongoing dispute between agents and clubs in regards to whom should be responsible for paying agents' fees when negotiating deals on the behalf of players.
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It's led to a number of agents downing tools amid the uncertainty over whether they'll receive their fees.
By extension, many players who would have preferred to see their futures resolved by now are in the dark as to where they might play their rugby next season and beyond.
“We’ve had this impasse between the clubs and the agents for the last quarter,” Hopley continued. “It’s like football—clubs are no longer paying agents because they say agents work for players so players have to pay agents themselves.
“For months, there’s been a stand-off between the agents and the clubs and as time goes by players get more and more nervous—and clubs get more nervous about recruitment.
“Ordinarily, most clubs would have done their recruitment by now. This is putting players in a really difficult position. We’re trying to find a way through.”
The current situation has created a cycle of uncertainty, which could result in a number of players heading abroad if they are unable to negotiate as desired with Premiership employers.
For many of those secondary squad players, however, it may lead to lost earnings as they struggle to draw the same interest from alternative suitors.
One player who won't be short of admirers is Bath and England winger Anthony Watson, however, who has reportedly decided to leave The Rec at the end of this season after nine years with the club.
Watson, 27, is the kind of talent for whom numerous clubs would be willing to restructure their finances, though the same can't be said for those mid-ranking players who could slip into free agency next summer.
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