Revealed: Top four per cent of Premiership players earn more than £400k

General view inside the stadium during a lineout in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Gloucester Rugby at Twickenham Stoop on May 21, 2022 in London, Englan - Getty Images Europe
General view inside the stadium during a lineout in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Gloucester Rugby at Twickenham Stoop on May 21, 2022 in London, Englan - Getty Images Europe

Four per cent of players in the Gallagher Premiership were paid £400,000 or more in the 2020-21 season according to the first ever disclosure of average salaries for top-flight players following the release of Premiership Rugby’s salary-cap report.

Just under 30 per cent were paid on average between £50,000 and £100,000.  Fly-halves were the best paid players at an average income of £175,679, followed in the top three by centres and locks. Hookers were paid the least with an average of £113,115. Tighthead props, once one of the highest-paid positions, are grouped together with loose heads in the sixth-highest paid position.

The publication of the figures comes in the wake of Lord Myners’ report, which stemmed from the salary cap breaches for which Saracens were investigated back in 2019. One of the report’s main recommendations was a call for greater transparency regarding how the cap operates.

The report for the 2020-21 Gallagher Premiership season, which includes data for Saracens despite the club at the time playing in the Championship, also shows that 24 players had marquee status or, as the report calls them ‘excluded players’. One club did not have any marquee players during the 2020-21 season.

Simon Massie-Taylor, Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, confirmed that the salary cap will return to £6.4 million for the 2024-25 season and added that the Premiership champions each year will now be subjected to an extensive salary cap audit, undertaken by Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Forensic Services Team, with 2020-21 champions Harlequins being the first side to go through that process.

“That is an effective tool to answer lingering questions,” Massie-Taylor said. “Things like that are important and build credibility with the fans.”

New regulations have allowed Premiership Rugby greater authority to investigate potential indiscretions made by Premiership clubs, including the ability to look at tax returns, bank returns, mobile phones and emails.

Andrew Rogers, the league’s salary cap director, stressed that all clubs were fully on board with the new transparent reports and aware of the tougher punishments which can be handed out in the wake of future salary cap breaches.

“What I can say is that with the new system, all the clubs are being very open and transparent with me managing their squads every season and that has been very positive. The open communication amongst all the clubs is very positive now,” Rogers said.

“The key element was the recommendation to ensure there are appropriate sanctions in place to deal with any transgressions. We’ve got really strong investigatory powers now and ways to monitor things, but equally the deterrent is there so that if someone does decide to transgress, the powers are there so that they can have trophies stripped, they can have relegation. There are some serious, serious sanctions, which would deal with any transgression.

“It is a lot harder [to hide payments] now we are looking at bank statements and tax returns. You can very easily see where the money goes and where it lands. The tax return is a statutory requirement so to then be lying against what you put down in a tax return is a serious decision by those who want to do it. The new system will help uncover a large amount. I am sure there is someone out there who thinks they are very clever and have a new solution.”

Analysis: Why not even more transparency in the salary-cap report?

The more transparency the better when it comes to the salary cap, with Massie-Taylor noting that the Premiership's whole USP is the competitiveness between the league's 13 sides and that extends to everyone being on a level playing field financially (aside from marquee players of course).

Given there was previously no publicised salary cap information at all perhaps asking for more is greedy, but Telegraph Sport put forward the question anyway: what is stopping rugby from following the way salary cap information is open to the public in the NFL (American football), NBA (basketball) and MLB (baseball), with each team's spending on individual players accessible for anyone who wants to know, across multiple websites. The answer was interesting.

"It is a very European thing, where people don't like to disclose what they earn, so I think there will be a number of people who would be against that, others will be very for it," said Rogers, who later described the data released in the report as "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to what he and the salary cap team at Premiership Rugby have at their disposal.

Rogers continued: "I think [an NFL-style model] would create absolute transparency on all fronts, so I guess never say never but at the moment I would be surprised if there was a real appetite for people to want to share what they earn, publicly. I don’t think it’s a club thing, it’s more of a player decision as to whether people would be comfortable sharing what they earn publicly."

Out of the interesting data to come from the report is the average salary spent on marquee players in 20-21 - £457,409 per player - with Premiership Rugby eager to point out that 10 of the marquee players did not feature in the top 24 paid players across the whole league. Those top 24 earners (including 14 marquee players) received £532,894 on average.

The top paid age bracket was 26-28 years old, with an average income of £182,532, although one notable figure was that 13 per cent of all 17 to 19 year old players were paid between £100-150,000 in 2020-21, with the average for that age group being £50,000.

The gap between average salaries for non-Test players and players with international caps also sticks out, with the average income across all senior players with no Test caps being £97,000, while players with one to five Test caps earned an average of £184,000. Players with over 50 Test caps meanwhile earned an average of £325,000.

Having all this information out in the open certainly makes for a welcome change and will give supporters a better idea of where their team's salary was being spent, and maybe even raise some concerns for those underpaid hookers.

But the 2021-22 report when released next year which will cover the first season since the salary cap was reduced from £6.4m to £5m, will provide a clearer indication of the current situation with regards to how teams are operating with reduced budgets.

Pride seems to be the main barrier to preventing full NFL-style transparency, which is a shame. Finally, any clubs even contemplating trying to get around the salary cap now face running a gauntlet where they seem certain to be found out.