Bath owner Bruce Craig has helped to rejuvenate the West Country club – and is also now a prime mover at PRL whose new rules have been announced
Though still nowhere near their hegemenous pomp of the 1980s, Bath have improved markedly over the past five years and this extraordinary result suggests they will be serious title contenders this season.
If you had bet on Bath to beat Leicester 45-0 last Saturday you would not only be considerably richer this morning, you would also win the Nostradamus Award for most prescient prediction of the decade.
The rise in fortunes is indisputably linked to the financial backing of the multi-millionaire owner Bruce Craig whose influence is not just being felt at the Recreation Ground. Craig is a major mover within Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) who announced significant changes to the financial rules governing Premiership clubs recently.
An increase in the salary cap to £5.1 million per annum, plus £400,000 each year of home-grown player credits is said to be linked to increased central revenues and to help English clubs compete in Europe.
Some cynics have commented that the increase merely reduces the need for creative accounting around the margins of the cap but revenues, especially from TV rights, have improved and some increase was inevitable.
PRL’s Mark McCafferty went further to claim that the increase would help clubs compete in Europe. Let us call this right – what ‘competing in Europe’ actually means is stopping players going to France, as it only French who have no sensible restraint on club spending.
We should not be conned into accepting that simple increases in the cap can achieve this end. Many of the Premiership clubs cannot and do not spend up to the cap and this increase helps most those who need it least.
If the totality of the increase is not met from central revenues it allows richer owners to spend more and widen the gap between clubs. In any event, the effectiveness of increased salaries is only partial because unless you have no cap clubs operating under one will always be vulnerable to ‘mega-offers’ from abroad.
What stops players moving to France is the much derided ban on selecting them for England if they do so. That ban must remain and further increases in the salary cap should not be made solely on the inaccurate claim that they are the major weapon in retaining players and raising competitiveness on the pitch.
Much has been made of the fact that 70 per cent of Premiership squads are England qualified but that percentage needs to be compared not just with European clubs and provinces but also Super XV squads. It is from the latter that comes England’s biggest international challenge and when the comparison is made 70 per cent is not quite the stellar achievement claimed.
McCafferty referenced England’s recent under-20 level success and it is said the domestic player credits will mean clubs strengthen their academies. This might happens but it depends entirely on how each club wants to spend its money.
Additionally, it is not just a matter of increasing numbers, they have to be of the requisite quality, they have to be selected and they have to be given enough time on the pitch. The last point is where the block to progress exists and the other significant change made by PRL will only make it worse.
Allowing a second marquee player from abroad it is claimed will allow “clubs to attract the best players from other competitions who will add to … TV and commercial values”.
This step will see top foreign stars grace the Premiership but it runs directly against giving experience to domestically developed players. A marquee player is certainly going to start, otherwise he would not be such and wouldn’t be bought in the first place.
With this measure the amount of starting game time available for domestic players is reduced by 8 per cent across the league and depending on which players arrive it could be far greater.
As an example, take the position of tight-head, an area in which England
does not have significant depth. Should each club make their second marquee player a number three, any emerging domestic tight-head will not get on the pitch as first choice; a 100 per cent decrease in starting opportunities.
That scenario is extreme but could easily happen at half the clubs with 50 per cent of starting positions removed. The same goes for every other position where more than one club buys a foreign starting player.
If the most exciting club league in the world is achieved with more foreign players it will hamper the England cause and add to financial pressure on clubs, most of which struggle at present. Most English supporters, given the choice, want domestic players starting games, even if it turns out to be marginally less thrilling.
Football’s Premier League is, arguably, the best club product on the planet, but not many people would honestly say it helps their national cause.