Money Talks

In my perusing of the internet last night, I came across articles from RugbyLAD and WalesOnline discussing some findings from data collected by Esportif Intelligence about the salaries of players in the Premiership compared to last year’s Pro12. Unfortunately I was not able to find their data/findings directly, but looking through the summaries from these other sites, there were a few things that I thought were worthy of discussion:

It’s no real surprise that the data showed the average salary of a player in the Premiership last season was higher than in the Pro12. The Premiership’s bumper TV deals have allowed clubs to splash the cash in order to compete against the Top14, whereas the failure of the Pro12 to have a centralised TV deal has made it hard for the teams to compete financially with their European rivals. What was interesting though is that despite the average salary being £30k lower than in the Premiership, the salaries for top players in the Pro12 last year were actually higher than the Premiership, to the point that a Pro12 combined XV would be more expensive than a Premiership combined XV. The disparity in the average player salary comes from the squad players, who appear to be paid considerably more in the Premiership than in the Pro14. If you’re a Pro12 player that is not being considered for national selection then there is very little incentive to stay in country when you see players in the Premiership being paid more to do the same or less!

The other big talking points come from the breakdown of average salaries by position. These figures were calculated by looking at player salaries and their starting position last year. From highest to lowest, the positions with the highest average salaries are:

Premiership:

  1. 10
  2. 12
  3. 4/5
  4. 15
  5. 3
  6. 11/14
  7. 8
  8. 7
  9. 9
  10. 13
  11. 1
  12. 2
  13. 6

Pro12:

  1. 10
  2. 4/5
  3. 8
  4. 15
  5. 9
  6. 6
  7. 11/14
  8. 13
  9. 2
  10. 7
  11. 1
  12. 12
  13. 3

It’s no real surprise that fly half is the best-paid position in both leagues as the fly half really is the quarterback of the team. A starting quality fly half is always in demand so this will also help to drive up the cost at this position. Combined with this, the fly half will often be a reliable goal kicker, so that will push the price of the position up even further.

What did surprise me was that open-side flanker was so low on the list in both countries, especially compared to second row, which features in the top 3 of both leagues. I think this shows something of the mentality of Northern Hemisphere rugby, as they prioritise a dominant set piece and dealing with the breakdown as a team rather than focusing on a specialised fetcher in the mould of Richie McCaw or David Pocock. The role of the second row is also becoming more diverse, with the set piece still vital but also an impact in open play now expected from even the average player. It would be very interesting to see the comparative salaries for Super Rugby over this time period.

It’s very interesting the discrepancy in salary for inside centres between the 2 leagues. In the Pro12 they are one of the lowest salaries, however in the Premiership they are second only to the fly half! As this looks at the starting positions of players last year, I think part of this comes down to the way the position is viewed. Over recent years, a number of Premiership clubs have regularly played a fly half at the centre position – Harry Mallinder, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto and Jimmy Gopperth immediately spring to mind. We have already established that fly half is an expensive position, if fly halves are also plying their trade at 12, then it makes sense that this position is becoming more expensive.

The other big discrepancy was with the salary for a tighthead prop. This has traditionally been one of the most expensive positions in rugby due to the importance of the scrum and the technicality of the position. I’m pretty certain John Afoa has been one of the highest paid players in the Premiership over recent seasons. I think 5th in the Premiership sounds about right for the position, but I am shocked that it is actually the worst-paid position in the Pro12 last season. Beyond Tadhg Furlong and WP Nel, I would argue that there is not a depth in quality at the position, so it may be that clubs are currently hesitant to pay big money until they know a player is deserving of it.

 

It will be interesting to see how these figures continue to change over the coming year. The report suggests the salary gap will be even higher this year, but with the addition of the South African sides to the (now) Pro14, will this see the salaries become more competitive over the coming years? Only time will tell…

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