Barwell blasts salary cap 'cheats'
March 1, 2013
Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i is set to join Northampton Saints at the end of the season © Getty Images
Northampton Saints chairman Leon Barwell has accused two of his side's Premiership rivals of abusing the salary cap and called for it to be scrapped.
Barwell refused to name the teams he suspects and acknowledged that Premiership Rugby's rigorous checks had yet to find any evidence of salary cap breaches, but did question how two teams in particular were able to operate with much bigger squads than that contracted at Franklin's Gardens.
"I think we are fairly clear in our minds that there are at least two teams in the Premiership that cheat on the wage cap and I'm not talking about a bit of tinkering around the edges, I'm talking about big time," Barwell told a Northampton Saints season tickets holders' forum this week.
"Our squad size is 35 and we don't overpay as a club our players. We are very careful in terms of how we spend the money. There are two clubs in the Premiership, one with a squad size of 51 and one with a squad size of 54. Now I don't believe they are at those clubs simply because something 'special' is happening, they are getting paid pretty well."
Barwell is just the latest figure to question the way teams apply the salary cap with London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith most recently voicing similar concerns that were refuted by Premiership Rugby's rugby director Phil Winstanley. Barwell refused to criticise Winstanley whose responsibility it is to police the salary cap but insisted that "it would not be difficult to cheat".
English rugby's leading clubs currently operate under a salary cap of £4.26m with academy credits - that see sides receive a £30,000 allowance for each homegrown player in their senior squads up to a maximum of £240,000 - offering further financial leeway. In addition, from the start of this season clubs have been allowed to make one 'marquee' signing who is excluded from the salary cap.
Saints have been active in the transfer market themselves this year with England international prop Alex Corbisiero set to join from London Irish ahead of next season along with Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i who will make the move from Welsh side Ospreys on a deal worth a £250,000 per season.
Barwell was at pains to point out that the club are 'up to the limit' in terms of the salary cap with their highest paid player, whose identity is kept secret, serving as the 'marquee' signing in terms of the club's accounts. The club's most recent accounts detail a £7.2m expenditure on the 'playing department' incorporating both players and support staff including coaches, conditioning and medical personnel.
He also feels that the time has come to remove the wage restriction, despite it being a fundamental element of maintaining a competitive balance in the Premiership since its introduction in 1999. "If you were to ask me my honest point of view, I would rather we did away with the wage cap," he said. "I believe if a billionaire owner wants to bring Dan Carter and world superstars into the English Premiership it can only help us to grow our game, to grow our profile and the environment we operate in. All the wage-cap does, in my opinion, is have the effect of lowering everything to the lowest common denominator."
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