Jonny May’s recent ‘swap’ move to Leicester caused some concern amongst the Premiership clubs – and they have swiftly moved to sort it.
Premiership clubs have closed a contract loophole which threatened transfer chaos in rugby union.
The clubs acted after England wing Jonny May used a little-known regulation to leave Gloucester for Leicester for a fixed compensation fee, despite being under contract.
But following talks on Tuesday, the 12 existing Premiership clubs have voted unanimously to amend the stipulation.
The Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) was not consulted on the change.
Previously, the regulation in the Premiership code of conduct enabled a player to be bought out of his contract by another club for a set transfer fee.
That amount was a one-off payment of a year’s salary of what the player was being offered by the buying club, or what he was currently being paid – whichever was higher.
It is understood that the clause was designed to cover employees in other areas of the club, but it has rarely been used in the case of a player.
But this regulation has now been altered, with the fee becoming a negotiation between the two clubs. This fee will fall outside the salary cap.
It is hoped the change will protect smaller clubs from having their young players on low salaries poached, and will ensure the competitiveness and equity of the league.
It’s understood all 12 Premiership clubs supported the amendment.
May’s move to Welford Road had been seen as an important precedent, with some figures fearful of the impact it would have on the English game.
The latest development represents a shift in power back to the clubs from the players but, like in the negotiations surrounding the global season, the players were not involved in the discussions.
“We’re talking to the players about how this will potentially impact on their careers,” RPA chief executive Damian Hopley told BBC Sport.
“We want to ensure the players feel there is an open dialogue to be had. This has to work for both parties [clubs and players], and be done in a professional and swift way.”
And Hopley says the latest change must not lead to inflated sums of money being demanded for players looking to leave a contract early.
“It must be dealt with in a fair and reasonable fashion, otherwise this could turn into a free-for-all and destabilise the entire marketplace,” he said.
The concern was underlined earlier today when Bristol announced the signing of Charles Piutau from Ulster for the 2018/9 season. According to reports Pitau will be paid £1m a year.
Piutau is a talented player – but I doubt he was top of many clubs wish lists.
His salary is some way below the £1million a week that Neymar will collect from PSG – but there will be many players around the globe wondering what they could earn if they move clubs, or countries or continents.
Saracens have also registered concern that they will not be able to hold on to their stars when their contracts run out – with Maro Itoje also reckoned to be worth a million a year.
The danger is that rugby follows football with ever increasing transfer and wage bills – albeit at a lower level.
Rugby is never going to attract TV revenues like football, but the risks to the financial sustainability of clubs is severe if things get out of hand.