Maximum squad sizes will be imposed upon Premiership clubs as part of the new Professional Game Partnership with the Rugby Football Union, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
While discussions are continuing, the leading proposal will limit clubs to a maximum senior squad of 35 players with a further 12 players in a ‘transition’ group from their academy.
Capping the number of senior and academy players a club can carry was understood to be a key recommendation of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport advisers, Ralph Rimmer and Chris Pilling, who were appointed last summer by the government to create a more sustainable league after the loss of three Premiership clubs to administration last season.
The reduction from 13 to 10 teams means that there is no longer an overlap with the regular international windows so there is less need for teams to carry bloated squads to compensate for club v country clashes. The purpose of imposing an upper limit is designed to not only control costs but to encourage teams to put more faith in their academy players rather than relying on journeymen to fill holes. Young English players’ lack of game time has been cited as a key concern by Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief executive, heading into the PGP negotiations with the Premiership which are unlikely to conclude this year.
While some clubs who have traditionally carried small squads such as Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints would be unaffected by such a change, teams such as Bath, who have a total of 73 senior and academy players, and Harlequins, who have 47 senior players, would need to make significant cuts in the coming seasons.
“You need to hit that sweet spot,” a source close to the negotiations said. “You don’t want your squad to be too small where players are playing too much but you don’t want your squad to be too big where players never play. There are squads of 70 and there will be 10-15 players in that who play less than five games a season. That just does not help anyone.”
The transition group would have its own salary cap while clubs would carry a further “rookie” class for Under-20 and Under-19 up to a maximum of 15 players.
The controversial development of Premiership 2 in the place of the Championship and streamlining numbers within academies together with the introduction of a draft system are also means to ensure younger players receive more game time. There is a recognition that certain clubs benefit disproportionately from the current academy catchment system which leads to them hoarding talented young players with only the narrowest path to regular first-team rugby which is the single most critical ingredient to their development.
“Clubs need to identify the prospects who are really likely to break through,” the source added. “Also if you restrict those numbers then it allows other clubs to pick up some of those other talents who would otherwise be stockpiled. We would not want a load of young fly-halves to be queued up behind Marcus Smith at Harlequins because he will be there for the foreseeable future and they simply will not be playing.”