IT IS A GOOD thing that so many of the Irish rugby players have been signed up to contract extensions – the French Top 14 is increasing its salary cap.
Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), the body representing France’s top clubs, has announced a cap increase to €10m from the start of next season. This represents a rise of €500,000 on this season. The cap in 2011/12 was €8.7m.
This compares favourably to the salary caps of the Aviva Premiership [€4.5m from next season] and of Welsh Pro12 sides [€3.5m].
Irish provinces Munster, Connacht and Leinster are not beholden to any set caps but, with the IRFU controlling the purse strings, the figure is closer to that of their English counterparts.
The lack of financial clout to compete with Top 14 sides, many of whom are funded by privately by multi-millionaires and syndicates, has caused a talent drain in Britain and Ireland.
The Welsh regions have suffered most, with players such as Gethin Jenkins, Lee Byrne and James Hook are plying their rugby trades in France. Jamie Roberts of Cardiff Blues is the latest to make the move, with Racing Metro his expected destination.
Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton is set to team up with Roberts, and possibly Dan Lydiate, at Racing next season. French newspaper Midi Olympique revealed earlier this month that Sexton will earn €55,000 a month with the Parisian club.
Barring any late transfers, the Irishman will be the highest paid player in the league next season, with his monthly pay-packet eclipsing that of other foreign imports, Jonny Wilkinson [€47,000] and Bryan Habana [€42,000].
Dr Jamie Roberts is off to France next season. (©INPHO/James Crombie)
There was a flurry of speculation following the news of Sexton’s move, with Leinster pair Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien adding their voices to the salary and transfer debates.
O’Brien told TheScore.ie, “I’m still in contract this year and next year. Obviously, when the time comes, if clubs are after you, you’re going to take it into consideration what’s on offer.”
Kearney admitted that the move could ‘open up a whole new ball park’. The fullback has signed a new deal with the IRFU since making the comments.
Two Irish players that will be out of contract this summer include Brian O’Driscoll and Stephen Ferris, who is rumoured to be weighing up a lucrative move to Japan.
Youth players [under 23] will not be included in the €10m total in France as long as they do not earn in excess of €50,000 a year. This, it is hoped, will encourage the development of upcoming talent.