In the latest of his exclusive columns for FRC, Pau's Australian captain Paul Dearlove looks at the likely impact of another 'foreign invasion' following the 2011 Rugby World Cup...
My advice to a player looking for a contract in France at the end of this season (June 2011) - Lock in a two year deal!
Because come November 2011 there will be, I believe, 40 players (perhaps more) from the Southern Hemisphere countries looking to finish their career (and bolster their bank balances) somewhere exotic. It was reported this week that Toulon have expressed interest in a number of Wallabies and I have no doubt that numerous All Blacks and Springboks have already received tentative offers or are on the shopping lists of big budget clubs. Add to this the players from Fiji and Samoa and the number could exceed 50 (by the way, these are two teams that could really shake up next years RWC ? particularly Samoa. In my opinion Pool D is the pool of death ? not Pool A. The Welsh must be terrified at the prospect of facing South Africa, Samoa and Fiji!)
This will create a trickle down effect. Players that now fill the ranks of Top 14 clubs will move to less prestigious top flight clubs or down to the Pro D2. Budgets will be spent chasing the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, James O?Connor and Bakkies Botha ? thus reducing the money (and places) available for journeymen. I will go further and say that for foreigners who are currently plying their trade in France the problem is even more severe. France has introduced a system limiting the number of foreigners for 2011/2012 and beyond (i.e. those who haven?t come through the centre de formation - academy system) to 30% of the 35 contracted players. Doing the math this means each club has space for 10 foreign players. With 30 fully professional clubs in France this leaves 300 positions at best (most clubs in the Pro D2 only have 27 to 30 professional contracts).
Now I realise not every one of those 40 or 50 international players will want to come to France but with the high salaries and excellent lifestyle, it will be a popular destination.
What effect will this exodus have?
Let?s start with the Northern Hemisphere. For clubs with money and for the national federations it is a great result. TV audiences (and the income that comes with this) will boom. The Heineken cup will become the world?s premier competition much as the Champions League dominates international football. The best players in the world will be playing in Europe.
With a higher quality domestic competition and the exchanging of ideas will also come a stronger six nations. This may redress the balance of power in rugby world rankings. You only have to look at how much stronger the Pacific Island nations have become with most of their players playing professionally in Europe.
What about the Southern Hemisphere? Well, this is less positive (from their perspective). Many of the most experienced players - particularly the South Africans who have a core group unlikely to compete in RWC 2015 and a weak currency - will finish their careers overseas. For young teams like Australia the federations will have to consider picking players from overseas or ?Carter Clauses? (i.e. letting a player play overseas but remain contracted to the home union).
Another reason 2012 will be such a competitive year for contracts is that younger players will not feel like they are damaging their chances of playing in RWC 2015 if they play overseas in 2012/13. That leaves them at least a season to reestablish themselves. (On the positive side losing many of the best and most experienced players will open up opportunities for younger talent to establish themselves and deepen the talent pool).
What does this mean for journeymen (like me)? Well I?m thinking seriously about retiring in 2012 so it is unlikely to be my problem but for younger players, who came overseas with aspirations of playing professionally, don?t despair ? you may end up spending a season or two playing Super 15 instead!
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