EDINBURGH head coach Richard Cockerill has suggested that a salary cap should be introduced for the PRO14 as a means of keeping the league competitive and financially responsible in an era when professional rugby is going to have to adapt to the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was reading stuff about the league not being as competitive as it should be and Leinster will always win because they have the most resources,” he said. “When you look at the resources and the way things are going with COVID, maybe it’s time for a PRO14 salary cap, like the Premiership and the French have, so everyone’s playing off the same budget. Then it’s about recruitment and about coaching and bringing young guys through and those things rather than just teams with more money having bigger squads.
“You’d have to phase it in over a season or two or three because everyone’s got contractual obligations. A £6.5-£7million cap to even up the playing field. It was brought in to open up the Premiership and generally the best run teams are the ones who are in the mix year in and year out. I’m not hard and fast on it but obviously in the situation right now it’s potentially worth having to look at. I know that’ll give the shits to all the teams that have lots of money, and there will be different view from the Leinsters, the Munsters and the Ulsters of this world.”
It is only fair to point out that the Irish provinces have a far greater proportion of homegrown players in their squads than is the case at either Edinburgh or Glasgow. So, while their budgets help the likes Leinster and Munster to hold onto established stars, it is the success of their academy, schools and youth programmes in creating generation upon generation of young players capable of stepping seamlessly into the pro ranks which underpins their habit of success.
To that end, Cockerill recognises that he is going to have to lean more heavily on Super6 as belts continue to tighten in the future, and he insists that he is quite comfortable with that.
“Super6 is in its infancy and I know there’s a lot of knockers and it’s a great Scottish tradition to say ‘everything is shit’, isn’t it?” he stated, with characteristic bluntness. “We’ve used it. Jamie Hodgson of Watsonians has been a big success out of that, Dan Nutton of Heriot’s was on the bench for us against Bordeaux and will be involved again, and others have been involved and will be involved this year.
“We have Academy Stage 3 guys who, as and when Super6 happens, will come and go. We’ll use those guys and give them the opportunity, because with the international season coming up there will be some natural gaps there.
“Guys like Jack Blain and others will get opportunities. That’s the nature of the game in the next 12 months, [and] if you go forward another 12 months then budgets may be even tighter, in which case those young guys in the Scotland Under-20s and in Super6 will get even more opportunities.
“That will be good for the depth of Scottish rugby, we’ve just got to make sure those guys are coached and conditioned well enough to cope with the demands. Is it perfect? No. But like most things if we just sit and moan about it nothing will get better. We should be proactive with the Super6 clubs like Edinburgh are.”
Edinburgh kick-off their 2020-21 PRO14 season when they host the Ospreys at Murrayfield on Saturday evening.
“George North will be missing through suspension but they’ve got four other British Lions within that squad,” said Cockerill. “They’re a talented team, they just had disappointing [2019-20] season by their standards.
“We’ll do our due diligence on them but we’ve got to make sure all parts of our game are right, It’s more about concentrating on us doing our bits well and consistently as possible and making sure that when we get the opportunities to score we take them, and making sure we control the game and don’t give away soft points. We’ve been guilty of that against Ulster and Bordeaux and we’ve got to stop that. Hopefully we’ll have learned some lessons, as harsh as they were.”