Jordie Barrett signing shows Premiership ‘not in place to rival URC financially’, says Rob Baxter

Jordie Barrett - Jordie Barrett signing shows Premiership 'not in place to rival URC financially', says Rob Baxter
Jordie Barrett will join Leinster from New Zealand side Taranaki in December 2024 - Getty Images/Hannah Peters

Gallagher Premiership clubs “have a lot to do” financially to reach a position where they can pull off similar transfers such as Jordie Barrett’s move to Leinster, according to Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter.

Leinster announced on Tuesday that Barrett would join on a six-month deal later this year, with the All Black’s signing viewed as a major coup.

Asked for his thoughts on the move, Baxter joked; “It makes you a bit jealous of not working in Leinster’s recruitment department, really. I know Steve Diamond once said it depends what shop you go shopping in, is it Waitrose or is it Aldi. It might be Fortnum and Mason depending on how you want to look at it.”

Two Premiership clubs, Northampton Saints and Harlequins, are through to the Investec Champions Cup semi-finals next month, facing Leinster from the United Rugby Championship and Top 14 side Toulouse. Baxter described Northampton and Harlequins’ achievement to reach that stage as “obviously fantastic” and good exposure for the league, while noting that the recent pandemic and the loss of three Premiership clubs last season had forced the league to reset financially.

“The Premiership is expected to be a developing competition again. We’ve had to do a lot of things around Covid and the financial situation in the country and around the support we were getting and we’ve had, which is different country by country. We’ve had to make some adjustments but we will hope as a competition that we will regrow ourselves over the coming period as well. We know where we are, we work with the resources we’ve got and we get to where we can get, that’s club by club and competition by competition. [Northampton and Harlequins’ success] doesn’t surprise me but it’s making it consistent that is our challenge.”

‘What are Leinster doing – and why can’t we do same?’

Regarding Barrett’s move, Baxter expressed his admiration for Leinster and noted how the right foundations were in place both in terms of money and on the field to attract players of Barrett’s quality to Dublin. The Premiership’s salary cap is set to rise from £5 million to £6.4 million next season.

“What you have to say is, fair play Leinster. You can look around and say ‘let’s stop everyone else doing it because we can’t do it’. Or, you go, ‘what are they doing to develop that level of interest and finance, of development, and why can’t we do it’. What we want to find out is ways that we can do it as well.”

Barrett, 27, has signed for Leinster on a sabbatical as part of his new long-term deal with New Zealand Rugby, reportedly turning down more lucrative offers in Japan to head to Dublin.

Asked whether that decision to opt for an experience over the highest financial offer was encouraging for Premiership clubs, Baxter replied: “Potentially. You have to work to make the competition look attractive and the way the game is played look attractive.

Rob Baxter
Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, said the scheduling issues surrounding the Champions Cup were to be 'expected' - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

“Obviously, you need to remember that I don’t think a club has ever announced that they’ve signed a player because they have put the best deal on the table for them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that headline. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, I’m not saying that, but you have to remember that to get that deal in place you have to get a lot of financial bits and pieces right, and that runs right from the top of the game to the bottom in the country. There is a lot we have to do to get to that level, but why shouldn’t we be aiming for it? That’s what we should be trying to do.”

Baxter also addressed the latest discussions around South African sides participating in the Champions Cup, adding that the scheduling frustrations around the Bulls sending a weakened side to face Northampton in the quarter-final was “one of those things that had to be expected and predicted”.

Baxter continued: “It doesn’t take a rugby genius that there are going to be some issues around it, especially if you put rounds back to back. It’s fairly obvious. There won’t be any point having a [World Club Cup] if teams don’t send strong teams because they haven’t won the Premiership for a couple of years and they’re focusing on the Premiership, so they don’t send a team that’s as competitive as it could be. These things have to be ironed out. It’s difficult with South African teams in the competition to make the perfect arrangement.”

Pat Lam, the Bristol Bears director of rugby, added that Barrett’s signing was “great for northern hemisphere rugby”, while joking “not that Leinster need more players” and reiterating his belief that clubs should not play under a salary cap but instead “spend to what you can [afford]”.

Lam explained: “What’s coming in with revenue is not as good as it could be, but it doesn’t take away from the product and what we’re doing. When I was at Connacht we had the lowest [money available] and I said ‘tell me what we’ve got and we will make it work’. It’s not about the best players, it’s about creating the best team. Don’t spend above your means.

“A lot of people think we have a billionaire owner but we don’t have access to all his money, we have access to what the salary cap is and work towards that. He asks us tough questions about how we run the organisation. Covid was a massive issue, because we were tracking well until then.”