Premiership clubs have been scrambling to get players to sign new contracts and exploit a “loophole” in new salary cap rules.
It has emerged that by getting players to agree longer deals, clubs can still pay higher wages to some individuals, as contracts beyond the 2021-22 season will only see 75% of their wages come under the cap.
With a deadline of Thursday, Rugby Players Association chief executive Damian Hopley described the “loophole” as “comical”, saying “we’ve sort of lurched from one loophole to the next”.
However, a spokesperson for the clubs’ governing body Premiership Rugby disputed this, saying: “This provision was included to protect our players with existing contracts, and it would be wholly incorrect to describe it as a loophole.
“When the Premiership Rugby clubs voted unanimously to reduce the salary cap, following the significant financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we needed to introduce measures to manage the transition from a senior ceiling of £6.4m to £5m.”
The wrangle comes after Premiership clubs agreed to reduce the salary cap on 8 June.
It has led to some players being asked to agree 25% cuts, while others are being asked to sign new longer contracts to maintain or increase their wages, all at short notice.
It is understood some players have been given 24 hours to decide whether to sign.
The RPA is not telling players not to sign longer deals, but the speed at which players are being expected to react to either situation is concerning for the union.
Hopley said: “We’re really frustrated by this whole process. It’s putting players under massive pressure to sign away the next long-term deals.
“But also, there’s a sense that by putting players on the spot, it’s causing all sorts of issues around mental health, which is a big issue for us.
“I think as a sport we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and everything that has happened in the last couple of weeks, and three months, and I think a governance overhaul is long overdue.”
Sale Sharks announced on Wednesday that all players and staff at the Premiership club had agreed pay cuts.
Relationships between England’s Premiership players, their clubs and governing bodies were already fractured after Harlequins prop and RPA chairman Mark Lambert told Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast that mediation was required to solve the ongoing problems.