By Neale Harvey
Leicester rugby director Matt O’Connor fears stellar wages being demanded by top stars as a result of salary cap increases will impact negatively on youth development across the Premiership.
O’Connor believes the financial pressures associated with servicing the cap may also tempt clubs to release older or injured players from their contracts sooner than they would prefer.
With the salary cap now standing at £7m plus two marquee players and other add-ons, effectively inflating it to £8.5m, losses for the 12 Premiership clubs in 2016-17 are set to hit £25m.
O’Connor believes cost-cutting is inevitable, telling The Rugby Paper: “What the increases in the salary cap have done is make everyone acutely accountable for every decision they make – you can’t waste any money because things are so tight.
“You have to make sure you get every decision right because they are so important: for example, you don’t have the luxury now to keep guys who’ve been in your environment for a long time who probably aren’t at the top of their game, and you probably haven’t got the ability to keep guys who are injured or invest in young talent.
“The cap is creating issues for clubs by squeezing decisions that need making and everything’s happening sooner, but we need to look at that because it’s become a pointy situation with the demands being so intense and stakes getting higher.”
O’Connor added: “There needs to be an understanding around developing players of the future, but what’s happened with the cap squeezes things tighter than you’d like because you haven’t got the patience to invest in the future.
“Rugby’s become all about what you do on a Saturday afternoon and there’s a premium on player wages, but sometimes there’s a bigger picture and it’s how you balance that across the cap and drive clubs to invest in the development.”
Having strengthened Leicester’s forward pack for next season following the acquisition of back five specialists Will Spencer, Guy Thompson and Dave Denton, O’Connor revealed he is now close to filling other problem positions.
He said: “We’ve got a few things to do in the front row and out wide but we’re almost there now. We’ve done a lot of work on fixing some of our shortcomings and we’ll have a bigger, more experienced squad.”
Despite Tigers crashing out of Europe and falling behind in the Premiership, O’Connor insists he has never doubted himself. “People can call for your head but the people who make the decisions are incredibly supportive.
“We’ve got a plan and there’s no point jumping into an impulse-buy scenario.”