Top 14: France's velvet 'Revol'ution -
Salary cap and overseas player quotas confirmed
03 April 2009
Plus ca change? Players like Jonny
Wilkinson will still be welcomed
Photo: Michael Paler
Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) has confirmed plans
for a revamped Top 14 with the introduction of foreign
player quotas, salary caps, re-jigged end of season
play-offs and a new penalty system for financial
proposals were adopted by the LNR’s executive committee on
Thursday and are set to be phased in over the next three
seasons, although the moves are less radical than many had
wanted – more a velvet revolution than a radical re-think.
for a reduced league of 12, for instance, were not even
discussed. National coach Marc Lièvremont was particularly
keen on a trimmed Top 14, but LNR president Pierre-Yves
Revol said reduction was never on the agenda.
competition is one that provides the most revenue,” he said,
adding that he hoped Top 14 would “enable the league and all
clubs to improve their economy, because it remains fragile”.
headline grabbing changes concern the introduction of salary
caps and overseas player quotas, but a deeper look at both
suggests creeping change rather than a complete overhaul.
latter initiative stipulates that clubs in both Top 14 and
Pro D2 must have 50% of their squad as ‘home-grown’ players
in 2010/11, with that figure rising to 70% by 2011/12. On
first glance those figures sound impressive, but even LNR
president Pierre-Yves Revol admitted it “allows the
Championship to remain open to the talents of the entire
implementation of such measures – pending legal verification
from Brussels – is not as dramatic as the figures might
initially appear. When broken down in terms of a 35-man
squad, for example, it means that up to 17 players could
still be ‘foreigners’ in 2010/11 – more than an entire team
– and even in 2011/12 that number could be as many as10, as
the ratios merely apply to squad numbers, and not starting
who recently signed England centre Riki Flutey, are
currently one of the most multinational squads in Top 14,
but CEO Simon Gillham isn’t overly worried about the new
argument is that as long as it is all done in a respectful
and legal way then we totally understand that the national
team is at the tip – but it’s got to be done properly,” said
Gillham. “Whatever measures are made will be phased in, so
And judging by past experience elsewhere he
also said the salary cap might be no more than window
“Everybody finds ways around salary caps,” he suggested,
although the LNR hopes to counter this by enabling the
league’s financial watchdog – the DNACG – to deduct points
if it uncovers irregularities.
Gillham is right. Rugby has a history of bypassing financial
restrictions, stretching back to the amateur days were
players weren’t theoretically allowed to get paid at all.
Lucrative ‘ambassadorial’ roles with major sponsors are
certainly one way around it, so it will be fascinating to
see what the real impact of such a measure is.
It was a
point acknowledged at the meeting by Stade Toulousain’s Rene
Bouscatel, who voted against every proposal according to La
Depeche du Midi. “The truth remains a hidden payroll,” he
clubs, in particular, have been crying foul recently,
claiming they can’t compete with French wages due to the
lack of a salary cap, but Gillham pointed out that it is the
strength of the Euro that is currently giving Top 14 the
been a major attraction to stars from the Southern
Hemisphere in recent seasons, but now the focus has also
fallen on Britain – due to the falling value of the pound -
with the likes of James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Flutey
already signed up for Top 14 duty next season.
reality the quota will not stop top-grade international
players from being lured to France, with the LNR accepting
that signing players such Byron Kelleher (Stade Toulousain),
Dan Carter (at Perpignan), Juan-Martin Hernandez (Stade
Francais), Napolioni Nalaga (Clermont Auvergne) and Jerry
Collins (Toulon) is good for the game.
they don’t want – and what this new legislation is trying to
counter – is a job lot of journeymen or has-beens clogging
up the system in preference to emerging French players.
the other measures agreed by the LNR – and set to be
implemented next season – sees an extended end of season
play-off. Currently the top four teams go into a play-off
scenario, with first playing fourth and second playing
third. The two winners then progress to a final – held at
Stade de France – with the winners being deemed Top 14
from next season that play-off system will be expanded to
include the top six teams, with those finishing first and
second gaining automatic semi-final places, while the other
four contest the remaining two slots.
Apart from providing two
more games – and the attendant financial rewards they will
bring – it’s purpose is two-fold: (1) To properly reward the
teams finishing in first and second place and (2) to keep
the Championship race alive deeper into the season by
opening it up to six teams.