English Premiership clubs will have an additional £500 000 to spend on players next season after agreeing an increase in the salary cap.
Premiership Rugby’s board voted to increase the salary cap from £4.26 million to £4.76 million but officials insisted the move had nothing to do with trying to prevent players leaving England for offers from wealthy French clubs in particular.
And with academy credit ‘add-ons’, clubs will be able to spend up to £5 million without breaching the salary cap.
The first £30 000 of any club academy graduate, up to a limit of eight players, can be added on to the £4.76million ‘limit’.
Meanwhile Premiership clubs will still have the option of signing an “excluded player”, allowing them to spend an unlimited amount on one star name whose pay falls outside the salary cap structure.
Recently, Leicester and England flyhalf Toby Flood announced he would be playing in France next season, following a lucrative path already trodden by England great Jonny Wilkinson and several other players.
Japanese clubs have also been keen to ‘splash the cash’ on marquee foreign players in a bid to raise the standard of their game ahead of the country’s staging of the 2019 World Cup.
But the Premiership’s director of rugby, Phil Winstanley, insisted the salary cap rise was not a defensive measure but a response to rising broadcast and sponsorship income from satellite channel BT and their sponsors.
“A lot of people will reach their own conclusions that we’re trying to combat the French or Japanese market,” Winstanley said. “And that’s very much not the case.
“At the end of the day the economic landscape between ourselves and the French clubs is extremely different, so it’s not for us to try to keep up with them.
“We have commercial success through our programmes and as the revenues increase we think it’s right to allow clubs to spend some of that through the salary cap.”
However, he added: “There has to be pressure on club spends because we want the clubs to be viable businesses and the tournament to continue to be competitive.”
The future of elite European club competition remains uncertain, with Premiership sides determined to break away from the existing European Cup next season.
But Winstanley insisted the salary cap increase would take place regardless of the European situation.
“We’ve been working on and growing these revenues for a number of years, and as those increase it’s only right that the salary cap increases,” he said.
“But that is not reliant on the European position.”
Premiership Rugby also said they were strengthening their salary cap monitoring system, with fines and points deductions possible punishments, amidst complaints some clubs were flouting the rules on players’ pay.