A Fistful of Rugby Dollars
20 April, 2011
|Gabrieli Lovobalavu (holding ball) - a true professional with Toulon. |
While Welsh international Gavin Henson’s finger is firmly on the self destruct button, his Toulon team mate and Fijian Gabrieli Lovobalavou is a prime example of a true professional in what could be described as Toulon Rugby’s make-believe world.
Money seems to be no object to the French club with 1.8 million Australian dollars being reportedly offered to lure back Sonny Williams while at the same time keeping Jonny Wilkinson on a reported salary of 800,000 euro’s a year.
But week in and week out its Lovobalavu, the sole survivor from Toulon’s initial promotion into the Top 14, that continues to gain the plaudits if not the million dollar salary. Lovobalavu was brought up in an undemanding environment in Fiji where the simple pleasures of rugby still count - to go out there and simply play.
This simple philosophy of merely wanting to play the game is what makes Fijians stand out in the financially stressed world of French rugby.
To many the way French rugby finances itself must be like visiting another planet, or playing in soccer’s English Premiership. However the salaries offered to seduce international stars to play in the Top 14 do not relate to the actual income being generated by those clubs.
In English rugby there has been in force, for several years, a strict salary cap which controls each club's wage bill, currently 4.2 million euro’s. If they wanted to spend more, they can't. The idea is to keep a level playing field, allowing a competitive league.
In France the equivalent system, is based on the average income of the clubs. Thus the high spenders inflate that figure. Toulouse, with an annual budget of well in excess of 20 million euro’s, has the structure to finance it.
They own their own ground of 17, 000 + capacity and look at mainly French players in their recruitment system - with the odd Byron Kelleher and Rupeni Caucau to add a little spice. Their historic support and sponsor set-up allows them to stay at the top. In England, Leicester represents the equivalent club.
It's the "new kids on the bloke" that are challenging the system, no more so than Toulon and Racing Metro. Both have only been recently promoted, but have spent not only to get there but stay there.
Their financial muscle comes from individuals with a dream and the cash to back it up. Welcome to Messrs Mourad Boudjellal of Toulon and Racing Metro’s Jacky Lorenzetti, and 'their fistful of dollars'. The former making his money from comics, the latter by selling houses. They have invested heavily, 10 million euro’s and counting, to reinvent their respective clubs former glories.
Too often promotion to the Top 14 only sees a rapid return to Pro D2 with too little time to put together a squad capable of competing at the next level up. Both Racing and Toulon have bucked the trend
There’s no doubt both clubs have added to the spectacle that is the Top 14, great to watch and write about - but is such investment sustainable and at what cost to the national set-up? This week's war of words between the NZRU and Irish Rugby highlights the problem.
The chase to lure players can lead to situations where club goes up against country or, perhaps even worse, club finances dry up and players are left high and dry as Nemani Nadolo found at Bourgoin.
For Fijian rugby players it is the chance to play with the best. That can only be a benefit. But it is necessary to keep one's feet on the ground, when the person you are passing to is on a pay-packet ten times yours. After all Rugby is a team game. It requires 15 committed players – like Lovobalavu.
Marc @ Rugbymarc