Pay scales for rugby players are not widely circulated and accurate information is difficult to obtain. Figures vary between the two rugby codes, league and union. They also vary between leagues, with players in the top-flight leagues — such as Super League or The English Premiership — able to command the highest salaries.
According to myjobsearch.com, an apprentice rugby player can expect to begin on a salary of about £20,000. However, pay is not the prime motivation for most players entering the sport, who want to be rugby players because they love the game. The governing body of rugby union in England, The Rugby Football Union, refers to five reasons to play rugby, and fiscal remuneration isn’t one of them.
Players in the middle of their careers earn widely varying salaries depending on their experience, professional achievements and perceived value to a club. Staying injury-free is not easy in a full body contact sport such as rugby, but it is essential for a player who wants a prolonged career. Some players move clubs in order to achieve career objectives, including earning more salary, but there is often a price to pay in terms of derision by fans for this perceived treachery.
The salary cap
In a bid to promote competitiveness, The Premiership Rugby Board sets a salary cap, which limits the amount of money a club can spend per season on the salaries of players. The first cap, in 1999, was set at £1.8m. The cap for the 2012-13 season is £4.26m, rising to £4.5m for clubs who develop players through their academies. A Premiership rugby union squad typically comprises about 40 players, which indicates an average salary of about £100,000.
Top rugby stars can command even more than the average salary. The salaries of top stars sometimes hit the headlines, especially when the demands of players are potentially detrimental to a club’s financial viability. In 2009, Danny Cipriani was seeking a reported £350,000 per year, which would have made him Britain’s highest-paid player, according to Steve Wilson of The Telegraph.