Premiership Rugby warned ‘players will leave’ amid growing tensions over fees

Former England fly-half Andy Goode has said the Premiership is at greater risk of losing out on star talents the longer the league draws out its battle against agents concerning player fees.

Representatives typically take a commission of between five and 10 per cent from each contract signed, which is usually paid over the course of said deal and comes in addition to the contract itself.

These payments have traditionally been handled by Premiership clubs, but the 13 clubs raised resistance in June when they demanded it should be the players who foot the bill.

It's resulted in a stand-off between the two parties, and many agents are understood to have refused to do business with Premiership teams, recommending their clients do the same.

That could give teams in France and Japan greater hope of recruiting many of those stars who would otherwise be in talks to extend their contracts or move to England around this time of the year.

Goode—who made more than 200 Premiership appearances with five different clubs—said in his RugbyPass column that while Premiership clubs stand to save £6million, the protest could result in an exodus of stars.

"In the meantime, it is the players who are pawns in all this and the Premiership is suffering as well as them," the former Leicester Tigers veteran wrote.

"No business is being done at the moment and perhaps Duane Vermeulen [a recent signing for Ulster] would have been plying his trade in England rather than Northern Ireland had this row not been going on.

"If all is resolved in mediation next week, people will forget about this very quickly but if it’s allowed to drag on, Premiership clubs will miss out on more of the world’s top stars and players will begin to leave the league in greater numbers. Here’s hoping both parties see the need for a speedy resolution."

It tends to be around the new year that Premiership fans are greeted by a swell of transfer news and new signing announcements for the coming summer, but such headlines may be less apparent this season.

Do you think clubs or players should be responsible for paying agents' fees? Let us know in the comments section.

Goode noted the matter is scheduled to go to mediation next week, with the Association of Rugby Agents (ARA) and Rugby Players' Association (RPA) set to say their piece in talks with the 13 Premiership clubs.

He also stressed the point that forcing players to pay their own agents' fees was somewhat futile, as "then the clubs will surely have to pay players more to account for this."

Securing revenue became a much more extreme priority for rugby bodies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with this change of stance over fees likely a direct result of last year's drain on finances.

The Rugby Paper recently quotes 'one of the most powerful agents in rugby', who warned the threat of players leaving England is genuine: “This isn’t the first time clubs have tried this, the last time was in 2003, and they were forced to abandon it; it will all be very interesting to see who blinks first this time.

“The pandemic has hit clubs hard, but it’s affected everyone – the answer isn’t to stop paying us.

“The threat not to sign players to clubs is a very real one unless clubs revert back to paying their fees like they always have done since I have been involved in the game.

“The biggest problem could be if a club is really keen to sign a big-name overseas player and the agent won’t deal in the Premiership unless his fees are guaranteed.

“Clubs are in danger of shooting themselves in the foot unless we find a solution, and that is not making the players pay.”

Japan continues to climb as a genuine rival for the world's top talents, and 2022 will usher in their first season as an entirely professional league, offering some of the highest salaries in the world.

French rugby has also thrown its hat into the ring as a lucrative destination, evidenced by Cheslin Kolbe's £1.5m move from Toulouse to Toulon, where it's understood he'll earn around £860,000 per year.

The current discontent in the Premiership could threaten to unsettle many players and potentially disrupt international preparations ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Eligibility could become a much bigger talking point in the next two years should prominent players be tempted to chase greater money-making opportunities outside England.

Premiership teams have made their argument as they prepare to go to mediation, putting English rugby at a crossroads in a case that's stopped effectively all business for the time being.

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