England’s senior players are demanding a big say in the future shape of domestic rugby as the Premiership lurches from one financial crisis to another.
The hooker Jamie George admits the demise of Wasps and Worcester has awoken all professional players to the stark reality of the sport’s finances and the growing threat it poses to their career prospects.
George, who will miss the autumn internationals with a foot injury sustained on club duty with Saracens, has been as shocked as anyone else by the swift demise of two of the 13 Premiership sides who kicked off the season last month, with at least one other club understood to be on the brink of a similar fate.
“This has opened the eyes of a lot of players, to be honest,” said George, capped 69 times by England. “It’s made people realise that rugby isn’t in the place we thought it was. We thought we were comfortable and that Wasps and Worcester would never go down. Now Joe Launchbury doesn’t have a job. Dan Robson doesn’t have a job and 167 other people at Wasps don’t have jobs. As players we need to recognise that and think: ‘What can we do?’”
Finding the right answers, George believes, will be simpler if the players are closely involved in discussions about where the league goes from here. “I think the players need to be at the forefront of it. Players are going to want certain things and how it works logistically and financially might be two separate things. But why would you not have them in the room? I think that’s absolutely vital.
“Whether you’re a senior or a junior player, this is a concern. It’s been the darkest week in [English club] rugby history, hasn’t it? I don’t have all the answers but I am hoping people behind the scenes at the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association are having these conversations.
“Maybe it took something like this to create some form of change. It’s horrific that it had to be this way but if we can channel this into English rugby becoming more secure that’s probably the only thing we can hope for.”
The 31-year-old George, though, believes central contracts offer only a partial solution and that players remain desperate to represent their club sides. “Fundamentally my priority is playing for Saracens. They are the club that I love. If I then get picked for England off the back of it, that’s fantastic. I wouldn’t want a central contract to take away from the importance of the club game.
“Whatever we do has to enhance the club game and therefore enhance the international game. I think I speak on behalf of a lot of players in that they want to play for their clubs. That’s why players need a voice in this conversation. It would be very easy to look at this commercially and say: ‘Let’s just make England as big as we can.’ For me, that isn’t the answer and it’s not what players want.”
Sage is the Official Insights Partner of Six Nations Rugby.