Australia’s Super Rugby players have welcomed a lift on a national contracting moratorium, but Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) boss Ross Xenos says it’s not a silver bullet for long-term anxiety.
The contracting freeze was believed to have started in February as the Super Rugby saga played out, but with European contracting time closing and teams no clearer on their future, that has been thawed.
Should the Force or the Rebels be cut in 2018, existing player contracts would be honoured, whether that player agrees to move to a new team or stay put, regardless of whether there’s a Super Rugby franchise there.
Xenos said while it wasn’t a perfect solution, with no more certainty on which teams would be in Super Rugby in 2018, it was a step forward.
“We don’t believe that lifting the moratorium is a panacea that will take away all the anxiety that players are facing in the current climate,” he said.
“Lifting the moratorium at least gives players the opportunity to plan 2018 and beyond with slightly more certainty than they currently have and to ensure that Australian rugby can put its best foot forward in retaining the players that we value for our future rather than just allowing those players to seek certainty through foreign deals.”
Xenos couldn’t put a figure on the players who may have opted to take up European deals without being able to sign off on a Super Rugby deal, but said he hoped it was no bigger than the normal attrition.
“What we don't know is how many players have sought the certainty of foreign contracts in the three months the moratorium has been in place,” he said.
“I hope that number is not any larger than it has been in previous years but I’m not hopeful the moratorium has worked in Australian rugby’s best interests for the period it’s been put in place.”
The Force are already saying goodbye to back Luke Morahan, while fringe players Francois Van Wyk (Northampton) and Semisi Masirewa (Japan) are also set to depart.
The Rebels have not had any players publicly announce departures, but there is speculation swirling around a handful of their players’ futures, including Sean McMahon, though his desire is believed to be mainly related to other factors.
Wallabies winger and Force star Dane Haylett-Petty, who recently re-signed until 2019, has said he would be reluctant to move away from Perth if the Force go, meaning the ARU could potentially have Wallabies on their books who are not playing Super Rugby in 2018.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne conceded there would be ‘consequences’ with the free contracting rein, but that would have to be dealt with.
“Inevitably when you go down this situation there are going to be consequences,” he said.
“The status quo is simply not a viable option, if you look at the amount of money that's going into that tier of rugby and it's not generating the return, then that is having a consequence on other tiers of the game that are not being invested in.
“I think that's the challenge we're weighing off.
“There may be players in that situation, but they'll have contracts and those contracts will be honoured.
“I guess it's up to them to make a determination around whether they want to play with another franchise or seek an early release and we'll be as accommodating as possible around that situation.”
Clyne said the ARU would sit down with any players individually to decide the best course of action.
“If we do end up in a situation where there are less teams than there are, then we'll sit down and it'll be a player-by-player basis,” he said.
“We're saying to players, ‘We'll give you the certainty of honouring your contract or pursuing early release or whatever you want to achieve’.”
It isn’t just the Force and Rebels under a cloud, with the Brumbies one of the hardest-hit by the moratorium, with Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani headlining a long list of off-contract players.
The Melbourne Rebels had a mixed reaction to the news, in a statement on Monday night.
"The Melbourne Rebels welcome the ARU’s announcement today to lift the moratorium on Super Rugby contracting,” they said in a statement.
“While the club is confident of our participation in the 2018 season, the feeling amongst the players and staff is that uncertainty will remain until a final decision is communicated by the ARU.”