Hammersley exit highlights spending limits facing Premiership clubs | Premiership

met is now 10 years since Newcastle traveled to Wasps, needing to win by 24 points to jump their opponents at the foot of the table and avoid relegation on the final day of the season. Ultimately, the Falcons bordered on a four-point victory, going down to the Championship swing while Wasps narrowly avoided falling into the abyss. It wasn’t a classic but for stress you couldn’t beat it and it’s worth noting that it was one of the rare occasions when Wasps attracted a capable crowd in High Wycombe.

A decade further and a brief look at both the table and the fixture list suggest Worcester’s home match against Bath on Saturday should be similarly dramatic. All roads should really be leading to Sixways but with a relegation on a break until at least the summer of 2024, Worcester and Bath will play dead rubber. The feeling of apathy is palpable and not just because Bath recently gave the impression that they had already passed away for the summer.

Premiership Rugby this week reaffirmed its commitment to returning from relegation after two years – or rather reminded us of what the deal says, because considering the strict criteria for advertising, because of the security it offers. Premiership clubs, it cannot be taken as read. Premiership Rugby CEO Simon Massie-Taylor also argued that the absence of relegation had no material impact on the public and that it was a necessary evil after the financial hardship caused by the pandemic, when clubs lost millions of pounds. and pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. However, we are approaching the last day of the regular campaign with little on the line. The fourth place is still decided, but Northampton are the favorites to get the victory they need against Newcastle, who have won once in the league since November. Saracens ’team selection against Gloucester – the other side in a dispute for fourth – only serves to emphasize the feeling that we are killing time until the finals begin.

Instead, it’s last day most notable for the number of farewells made as the number of players without contracts for next season has increased significantly and the number of high-profile players looking for bigger contracts abroad is also increasing. Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager, Taulupe Faletau and Malakai Fekitoa to name but a few all leave this summer – the latter two to the URC where clubs now boast more spending power than those in the Premiership with the salary cap going down and the marquee playing subsidy cut from two to one.

Of the players without clubs for next season, Massie-Taylor suggests that rather than the average professionals being squeezed out, it is in fact those closer to international recognition who would be entitled to higher salaries by feeling the pinch. That in itself is a concern as they should be sought after with English players missing about 50% of their clubs’ league matches next season but it says something when someone like Simon Hammersley, only recently turned 29 and running for England against the Barbarians three years ago, demands time for his career to pursue other interests away from rugby. “People are talking about the compressed middle ground, but I think it’s actually more to the top where the contracts of some players aren’t renewed,” says Massie-Taylor. “Clearly it’s a really difficult time in anyone’s life when their career is coming to an end. But it is so important that future wage limits are tied to future earnings. “

Faf de Klerk
Faf de Klerk is one of some high-profile outings this summer. Photo: Ashley Western / PA

If all that serves to paint a bleak picture of the premiership, however, in many ways the league is thriving. Vision figures are significantly up, tests and points scored are rising and there is a level of competition for which other leagues would kill. Who would have predicted Bristol’s demise at the start of the season? Or predicted that London Irish would be involved in five exciting draws? Whether this is a consequence of the absence of a setback, or of the adjustments to the law, or both, remains to be seen, but there can be little doubt that the product on the field is improving. And despite all the A-list foreign players drying up, anecdotal evidence suggests that supporters are just as happy to see domestic players explode to the scene. The last few weeks have been interrupted by European weekends with little or no English involvement, but next weekend will see two semi-finals in which the winners are really hard to pick before an outstanding final looking to mimic last season. a remarkable match between Harlequins and Exeter.

However, there is a feeling that much more could be done to break the glass ceiling under which the Prime Minister stands. The NFL is so often presented as the model to follow and in terms of fan engagement and innovation this is certainly something to aspire to, but the key difference is that there is no international game in American football and how the Premiership will always have to coexist. with the interests of the national teams.

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Massie-Taylor talks about gradual improvements – he doesn’t expect any “Big Bang” moment where the global calendar suddenly lines up or where crossovers between club and international fixtures are eliminated but rather slow and steady progress. “Some mountains you can’t move,” Massie-Taylor says, “but it’s going to be a long time coming.” all related to the club-country relationship.

His role is fascinating because, having previously been the RFU’s chief commercial and marketing officer, he has seen both sides of the fence. He went to the Prime Minister with the blessing of the RFU but he will have a unique understanding when sitting down to negotiate a deal with the union’s chief executive Bill Sweeney, who in March lamented the existing structure as effectively broken. “There are two issues that need to be resolved,” says Massie-Taylor. “One of them is the fact that England are not doing as well as they would like, the other is that the club system is not yet sustainable and they are of mutual interest.” Sounds just like that, but others have tried with limited success since the game opened in the mid-90s. Promises of real, tangible progress give birth to optimism, but one has to see it to believe.

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