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Time for a salary cap in Scottish rugby

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John Beattie | 17:26 UK time, Sunday, 15 May 2011

Scottish Rugby should bring in a salary cap at Edinburgh and Glasgow. Some of the top players are paid so much money that they can't hold on to the younger players.

In fact, Edinburgh and Glasgow have been so dire this season that I would ask the players for some of their cash back. Actually, I would.

It should be other way around. Let the expensive players go, and keep the young guys.

I've seen the lad Mark Bennett play. Across from my house is the rugby pitch I played on as a kid, and a couple of years ago I went to watch an age-group Scottish team play.

In the centre was an outstanding prospect. He was tall, fast, aggressive, and, I think, ran in for two tries.

James Eddie, third from left, joins five other Glasgow Warriors players to say goodbye to the fans at Firhill. Photo: SNS

James Eddie, third from left, joins five other Glasgow Warriors players to say goodbye to the fans at Firhill. Photo: SNS

I did some asking and found out that this was Bennett, a lad from Cumnock.

He was "in the system" and they had their eye on him. He joined Glasgow.

He played for Glasgow against Leinster in their last game of the season and, by all accounts, was the best Glasgow player on the pitch at 19 years old.

Now he's gone to France for less money than he had been offered by Glasgow. In fact, it's a Clermont "academy" contract, so he's not really a full-time, highly paid player.

There is something wrong here. First that Scottish rugby is deemed so average that a young player would turn his back on it to work elsewhere, and, secondly, that it was smoke and mirrors when he went to France to play in a trial at Clermont.

Am I alone in thinking this is madness for us to let him go?

I completely agree that our top players should leave when they become too expensive, but our brightest and best young talent?

It's almost an admission that other sharpening systems are better than ours.

It's a known fact that the RFU pays the Premiership clubs to pack its clubs with English qualified players. It plans to extend the system to the Championship as well and it all means that, in future, there is no exit route to England for Scottish players.

It simply won't be cost-effective for English clubs to employ Scottish players. They cannot afford to turn down the huge RFU funding that comes with having English players in match-day squads.

Scottish Rugby, actually, is in a very strong negotiating position. Scottish players can no longer threaten to go to England, and only the world-class players would be taken on by French clubs.

Bennett, if he makes it in France, will be part of an extraordinary story.

But Scottish Rugby has messed up its own system. James Eddie, one of Glasgow's best players when fit, has been released, and now one of our most promising players has been let go, all because there is no money as it's tied up elsewhere.

There really should be a salary cap, as it's better to have 40 hungry players than 10 well-fed ones, meaning you can only afford another 10 or so.

I'm a former captain of Glasgow, and I think you should only make big bucks if you win.

But I might be wrong. What do you think?


  • Comment number 1.

    Its interesting that the SRU always uses the excuse that signing an expensive player from the southern hemisphere is ruled out because it would prevent young Scottish talent coming through. Yet in England, France, Wales and Ireland they buy these types of players and still manage to get young local talent through.

    I mean come on do you really expect us to believe that this is the reason for not buying them.

    Young talent can still come through and probably at a higher standard if there are experienced overseas players there to help them.

    Just admit it SRU you dont want to spend money on them because its cheaper to offer a contract to a younger player who you are probably just going to either kick out or let go to another country at the end of the season as we have seen with the likes of Bennet and young Alex Blair at Edinburgh.

  • Comment number 2.

    Last season seems such a long time ago, with only Edinburgh recently showing signs of competitiveness. The home crowds were growing at Edinburgh last season, as they played good rugby and, crucially, won matches. That's not been the case this season and until and unless they start winning, those contemplating going to the games will not take long to find something else to do on a Friday night.

    Yes, cut wages. Pay win bonuses and if they don't win, get rid of them. It's not just Bennett being lost to Glasgow, the cutting of Blair from Edinburgh seems nothing short of insane. Have at look at and think if you could really see Phil Godman doing any of it. I can't.

    There's something rotten at the core of the SRU and it seems to have infected the pro teams. Is it complacency? When you look at the lack of quality in the team performances from Glasgow this year, lacking basic defensive skills for example, perhaps it is not just the top players that have to be moved on. How long should Lineen be given? Edinburgh have had a number of different coaches during his time at Glasgow and have generally matched or outperformed Glasgow, so why is Lineen still there?

  • Comment number 3.

    John, you punditry is becoming more and more deluded. Salary caps in england are on teh wage bill, not individuals. There is a salary cap at Glasgow and Edinburgh - it was about half the |english one last year and is reducing. Reducing because they are aready releasing all the highly paid players. Unless (as in Ford's case the sponsor coughs up extra apparently). As to the English clubs not being able to afford scots players - that'll be why Vernon and McKenzie went to Sale then, and btw, Bennet went to France.
    The question on bennet is why wasn't he signed up months ago, last year even? lack of salary budget maybe?

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with you John. A salary cap would ensure that the best players go away when they are in their prime and open up places for emerging talent. This is a great a way to ensure player development. If you have no ambition to grow the professional game.

    If combine the salary cap with a willingness and ability to increase revenues then the salary cap can increase over time and so some of the better players will stay and attract more people to come along and watch.

    People coming along to watch is where the revenue comes from (somebody please tell Gordon McKie because he seems not to know this and neither does his chief financial officer) because they buy match tickets and you then have the possibility to encourage them to buy food, drink and merchandise. The more people who come along the more revenue you are likely to get.

    You can then use that revenue to, in the first instance, offset against your annual operating costs and then to increase the amount available to the pro teams and finally invest in the game at the lower levels.

    When you are at the last stage you can package the pro teams to be franchised out and perhaps create more pro teams (either from existing clubs or new teams). At that stage your youngsters will have more opportunities to progress and some of your stars may not depart these shores for more cash.

    I also agree that you should only be on big bucks if you are successful. Gordon McKie and Eammon Heggarty should lead the way by having their salaries slashed - talk about fat cats taking the cream whilst the ship sinks.

  • Comment number 5.

    Philip @ 4 - who do you think wants to go along and watch a team that never keeps any of its stars and gets humped every match? Pro teams have few enough spectators - what you and Jb are suggesting will drive more away.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good blog again John. It all stems from the SRU having such an apathetic approach to the two Pro teams. Every statement that seeps out of EH12 seems to contradict the last one.
    We are heading towards an Argentian model whereby all the best players play outside Scotland which could work depending on how good a coaching structure we have in place?

    Also, has anyone ever asked who McKie and Heggarty etc are accountable too? How can they justify their 300k salaries and let go of James Eddie and Alex Blair who could've been retained for a fraction of that.

  • Comment number 7.

    What about win bonuses. I suspect the Edinburgh front row (to pick a random example) would perform better if the rent depended on it. Modest salary, large win bonus (and huge bonus for Heineken progress from groups, this should be easily covered by insurance due to its historical rarity).
    By the way John what about publishing a detailed structure of SRU. Which committees elect which official, appoint each paid official etc. We can't hope to change things if we don't know which levers to push.

  • Comment number 8.

    ayrshire_laddie @5 What do think happened this season? Effectively, there is a salary cap in place for the 2 pro teams in Scotland as they are owned and operated by the SRU. Salary cap with no ambition to improve income/revenue/available funds is already driving fans away.

    As I wrote @4, success should be rewarded and failure punished. The SRU CEO and CFO have failed this season and last, and should have their whopping salaries slashed. They could have kept Bennett for a third of McKie's annual pay.

  • Comment number 9.

    Moving to an Argentinian model is a daft idea. Argentina have been told to put a domestic professional set-up in place before they can join the tri-nations.

    The SRU going the other way will lead to Scotland being kicked out of the 6 Nations.

    If the SRU (read Gordon McKie) want to get rid of the pro teams then the clubs need to take up the challenge and put themselves forward for inclusion in the Celtic League (or whatever replaces it in a few years).

    Donald Peddie @7. You can find all that information on the SRU website -

  • Comment number 10.

    Phillip @8 - I know there is a salary cap -see my post @3. JB is suggesting a ceiling forindividual players -we already have that too -why else is Max Evans being forced out? If you agree that this is already driving players away, and that crowds are down, can't see how you can be agreeing with JB - what he is suggesting is making it official and worse by capping the salary of individuals at even lower levels rather than giving the coaches the flexibility and responsibility they should have. We now don't even keep players until their prime. We can't even sign academy players.
    Why should anyone go to watch a pro team - a huge part of the initial sell was rightly to see international players every week - including and especially Scottish ones. And to win occassionally is nice.

    Please don't mention McKie,it makes me physically sick at how he is ruining rugby.

  • Comment number 11.

    Who are the players who "are paid so much money that they can't hold on to the younger players."? and what ammount is "So much money."?

    If you want a pro team then salaries have to be paid. Doing away with the experienced players will weaken the teams even further.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with #11. You have to strike the right balance between experienced players and the young guns. Without quality, experienced, players the results will not improve and attendances will plummet even further.

  • Comment number 13.

    I would have thought there is an easier way to progress talent.

    If the SRU pay London Scottish £300k per year (which is what the RFU will pay them to field 12 english eligible players in the matchday squad next season and 14 the year after I believe) so that LS doesn't have to take the RFU money, then LS could take the higher paid pros south- they remain within the "system", and thus Andy Robinson has some measure of control AND ambitious players get the chance to play every week at a higher level. If that arrangement works, no reason why LS wouldnt be a premiership side.

    Edinburgh and Glasgow could then play a mix of youth and experience and live within their means.

    Won't happen though, sadly.

  • Comment number 14.

    £300,000 is the top bracket for wages in Scotland for a player i understand so if they paid that to London Scottish and the likes of Alex Blair and the others who were released went down there then they would have a nice little operation going and I'm guessing after a couple of seasons would be ready to challenge for the league.

    You can't expect a youth player to be ready for pro rugby after a year in Scotland due to the SRUs inability to come up with a youth structure of high enough intensity so releasing Alex Blair and the hooker Brown is idiocy by anyone's standards.

    Hopefully London Scottish have sent an invitation to Blair and the others to come down for a trial.

    P.S. Phil Godman has been injured for more than the 6 month clause so why haven't they released him? He can't pass or kick and can barely run his length.

  • Comment number 15.

    scottish80 @ 14 That's about what Gordon McKie gets. I don't really see him as a top player.

    BTW, some KPIs from a supporters trust for a professional rugby team - not Scottish obviously.

    - Catering profit already 41% higher than the whole of 2009/10
    - No. of pints sold already up 22,000 on the whole of 2009/10
    - Pie sales already 41% up on the whole of 2009/10
    - The last 20 weeks has seen 170 events and over 10,000 covers
    - Kit Sponsorship up 12% on last year
    - One off hospitality up 42% in the past 2 years
    - Number of Business Club Members up 5% on 2009/10
    - Revenue generated from Community Department ticket sales up 53% on 2009/10
    - Merchandise revenues up 11% and number of items sold up 9% on 2009/10
    - Season Ticket Holders up 15% and Revenue up 4% on 2009/10
    - Retail stock holding reduced by 18%
    - Average [matchday] Public spend per head is 50% higher than the Industry average
    - Gas Unit price reduced by 54%
    - Electricity Unit price cut by 43%
    - Telephone costs down 45% on 2009/10
    - 2nd Place in the IOG awards for Best Supporters Stadium
    - Website Traffic has increased by 29% (272,334 visits) over the last four months in comparison to the same period in 2009/10
    - Matchday attendances up 15% on 2009/10

    Do you think somebody could tell the SRU about these and get them to publish the same set of stats for Edinburgh and Glasgow? Bet they would make really scary reading.

  • Comment number 16.

    There are a handful of players in scotland on over 100k and maybe 2 or 3 around 150k , to say this is excessive is ridiculous , apparently the new Edinburgh coach is shocked at how tight the budget is haha and he is used to the Connaught budget
    Wake up everyone year after year resources have been stretched at Glasgow and Edinburgh and any time each of these teams have done relatively well the sru have swung the axe and made massive cuts
    How can we possibly compete without major investment ?
    Edinburgh and Glasgow now have the lowest budgets in the mangers league?
    How many games do the teams in any professional sports leagues with the lowest budgets win?
    Time to wake up
    The only way forward is investment , it's the only thing that has nt been done properly in Scotland , any one who says otherwise is a fool or a liar
    Good bye

  • Comment number 17.

    ayrshire_laddie @ 10. I would agree with you except that a salary cap at individual level exists already - it is the point where negotiations with the player or his agent stop and the player has to find a new club. By necessity these caps are not published otherwise everybody would go for them.

    If you read the final sentence of my first paragraph @ 4 you will see my view on what JB is proposing. It will be the last thing to finally kill off professional rugby in Scotland unless the SRU wake up, smell the coffee and start investing the future of the professional game.

    I think that just about everybody except those at SRU HQ and those who have some influence there knows that. McKie and Heggarty are killing Scottish rugby through starvation of funds and lack of business acumen.

  • Comment number 18.

    Philip - yes McKie gets £300,000 but thats also roughly the same wage as given to the top 2 or 3 players in each of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Mr Beattie would know more about this as I rekon that his son could be one of these boys and I think Max Evans used to be one. Anyway McKie doesn't deserve the money he gets - its the same as the cost of running the 7's team which he wants to disband despite it giving the youngesters one of their few chances at playing at a competitive level. Why they released those players is beyond me! Starting to get very annoyed now - will there be any players around when the world cup is on or am I going to have to hit the gym this summer to make up the numbers for a few weeks?!

  • Comment number 19.

    There are between two and five players on over 150k and not one over 170k fact , these players are payed this because they are integral to the Scotland team and would cost alot more to replace , they are the best in Scotland at what they do and have proven themselves at what they do, how many CEO s in Scotland are payed 380k like mckie for running their company into the ground ? Zero

  • Comment number 20.

    Philip @15
    SRU will not comment re your stats as everything from pies to tops have been contracted out. There is no insentive for Edinburgh or Warriors to encourage their supporters to buy anything.
    The main saving that SRU have made is in Electricity which has been cut by 99% - only because they are keeping everybody in the dark as the the going ons.
    SRU administrators have little concern in the fans of the pro teams and see them as an irritation who are invited along -on payment - for Scottish training sesssions. AKA Magner league games.

  • Comment number 21.

    They deserve the money that they are getting, I dont think its too much or too little... they should get what they deserve. If Scotland can pay them, why not?

    btw, I love BBC! Please create a show or topic on how to Make Nose Smaller

  • Comment number 22.

    The problem with Scottish Rugby is that barely anyone cares unless Scotland is playing England. I live in Belfast and people actually talk about Rugby. The only time that happened when I was in Scotland was when I was surrounded by ex-private school pupils. I used to live close to Firhill and Hughenden and was never tempted to go, but I have been to Ravenhill a few times to support the Scottish teams. Its only living in Ireland that has got me really interested in Rugby.

    If the SRU actually got Scottish people interested in Rugby and got the crowds in then we could easily compete with the bigger european clubs and we would not have to worry about losing our best players. I never played Rugby at school, Rugby was never talked about at School, and if you did you would get stick for being interested in egg chasing. The SRU has to try and ditch the elitist image that still holds. Football in Scotland is at a real low point in Scotland, football is my sport and I am sick to death with it due to what has been going on recently, so surely this is rugbys big chance to attract disillusioned football fans?

  • Comment number 23.

    "If the SRU actually got Scottish people interested in Rugby and got the crowds in then we could easily compete with the bigger european clubs and we would not have to worry about losing our best players."

    That is the whole point - the SRU in the guise of McKie and Heggarty couldn't raise interest in the sport if their lives depended on it.

    Dwindling support means that Scottish rugby is at the bottom end of the Celtic League, the bottom end of the 6 Nations and the bottom end of the IRB sevens. In fact, in just about every major European or World tournament Scotland are at the bottom end.

    I would like to say that we are at rock bottom but with Mckie and Heggarty in charge we have a lot further to fall before we reach that platform.

    For Sale: One 67,000 all seater stadium with professional sports facilities and surrounding grassland. One careless owner, rarely used. Could suit company with redevelopment in mind. Planning permission for flats on surrounding grass.

  • Comment number 24.

    John - given your contacts in the game and to the extent that you can write it here, do you know of any good reason why the SRU will not permit private investors to wade in with sponsorship?

    Does the SRU really need control of the clubs that badly?

    Anyone else feel free to lambast/update me on this.


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