The Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) will push to raise or even eliminate the salary cap in its upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations, as Australia’s players contemplate a future with one less Super Rugby team.
RUPA chief Ross Xenos said the structure of Australian rugby, with Test players receiving ARU top-ups, meant a salary cap did not force talent to be evenly spread across franchises.
“One of the flashpoint issues for the upcoming negotiation will be the premise of the current contracting model, that the ARU tops up those players that are of interest to it, which then changes the market tension of whether players are encouraged to move Super Rugby teams during their careers,” he said.
“Historically there has been a very small number of nationally contracted players who have shifted clubs during the course of their careers.
“The contracting model doesn’t provide any capacity for the other teams to provide any greater incentive for those players (to move clubs).”
Australia’s Super Rugby teams currently operate under a $5 million salary cap, with individual ARU top-ups negotiated above that.
The problem internationally, aside from the talent distribution within Australia, is that French clubs can offer them contracts with no salary cap restraints and the English Premiership currently operates with a 6.2million pound (10.7 mil AUD) salary cap.
“It has become clear that having a salary cap in rugby with the ARU applying its top up funds as it pleases over the top has not generated competitive balance outcomes as salary caps do in other sports,” he said.
Xenos said they would certainly be looking at raising the current salary cap, or even possibly getting rid of it entirely, under the next collective bargaining agreement to come into effect in 2018.
“Definitely, that’s one of the big things that under a four team model we need to reassess how it currently operates.” - Ross Xenos.
“It’s not just a matter of taking the model we have for five teams and cutting a team out of it, we actually for more reasons than just SANZAAR review, need to review the overall operation of the collective bargaining agreement.”
RUPA is also looking at increasing Super Rugby squad sizes to compensate for the loss of a team, an avenue that was already being explored even if five teams remained.
Whichever of the Rebels or the Force is axed from Super Rugby in 2018, when that process eventually comes to an end, roughly 15 players from that club will not be assured of a Super Rugby contract in 2018, not including players at other clubs who might be let go to accommodate players from the axed franchise.
Close to half of Australia’s professional players are coming off-contract in 2017, though a handful of Test contenders have been retained, while any players who have contracts into 2018 and beyond have been guaranteed a new Super Rugby home despite Monday’s announcement.
While RUPA campaigned vigorously for the maintenance of five teams, Xenos said now the priority was a swift decision, though that doesn’t appear forthcoming after the Force launched legal action against the ARU overnight and the Rebels are reportedly considering a similar response.
“It’s created an extended period of uncertainty which now is reaching flashpoint as the patience of clubs, agents and players is really starting to wear thin, given that we’re now into almost our ninth month of this review.” Ross Xenos.
While there will be ultimately fewer Australian players in Super Rugby in 2018, Xenos said he didn't expect players to draw from a larger pool in any new agreement, with the revenue lost from an axed team negating that, while it is also looking at expanding the agreement to include sevens players as well.
While negotiations on the CBA have been paused, a new agreement needs to be finalised by the end of this year.