Australian rugby has begun 2018 in a more positive way than it left 2017, with the announcement of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Outgoing Rugby AU CEO Bill Pulver and RUPA CEO Ross Xenos announced the key details of that on Wednesday.
What are we talking about after the beginning of the new deal?
1. A step up for women's rugby
For the first time the women’s and men’s Sevens will be part of the wider collective bargaining agreement. All Sevens and Super Rugby entry level players will be entitled to the same starting wage, at around $44,000, putting women on the same playing field as men for the first time in rugby. It’s a move that was a priority for both sides of the table, especially after the Sevens’ success in Rio in 2016. The XVs game still has a way to go before reaching the professional realm, with Super W players not set to be paid for playing in the new competition, though their costs will be covered. Wallaroos will, for the first time, receive match payments for their Test appearances, a step towards professionalism.
2. A transition year for Super Rugby
Not much will change for clubs in 2018, but a new $5.5 million salary cap will be introduced for 2019 and 2020. This season will be one of transition, with both RUPA and Rugby AU believing natural attrition will take its course to put all four clubs under the cap in 2019. This will be spread between a larger squad than in the past, with up to 32 Core Super Rugby players, on a minimum $85,000 salary, and then eight-10 wider training squad players, replacing the EPS. Veterans of more than seven years at a Super Rugby club will also have a 15 per cent discount under the salary cap, rewarding players for loyalty.
3. More rest for players
All players under the CBA will have a mandated four-week leave period under the new agreement, with an extra 10 days over Christmas. Where in the past Super Rugby players were often given their leave in chunks of two or three days, these will now be scheduled to take place after the Super Rugby season and after the NRC season. All players will also have one day a week of compulsory stand down, giving them time away from rugby. After a year in which player welfare became a hot button issue, work-life balance is certainly a key concern for plenty of people in the game.
4. 2020 cutoff opens potential for change
The new deal runs until 2020, the end of the current broadcast agreement, which contributes more than half the revenue to the game. This appears a convenient end point from that perspective, but it also could signal some looming change for Super Rugby and the code beyond that time. Though outgoing Rugby AU CEO Bill Pulver was adamant it wasn’t made for that reason, RUPA CEO Ross Xenos, whose organisation has long campaigned for a trans-Tasman model, said it would certainly open the door for more easy change. Whether that means the same Super Rugby structure, a trans-Tasman or domestic model or a conflation of Andrew Forrest’s Indo Pacific Rugby Championship remains to be seen, but whatever it is, being able to cater contracts to that timeline will be critical.
5. NRC future assured in the west.
Though there is no Super Rugby franchise in WA anymore, the state has been guaranteed an NRC presence until 2020. A greater investment of revenue into the community area of the game will also be funneled into that state as much as any other. A commitment of $250,000 from players will filter back into the performance and wellbeing side of the game, money that will be distributed across the country.