Central contracts for England internationals should be at the “top of the agenda” in negotiations over the future of the domestic game, according to the Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
After England slumped to a Six Nations campaign featuring just two victories for the third year in a row, and in a season in which two clubs have gone bust, there is appetite for change from both the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership in the next Professional Game Agreement that begins in 2024.
The RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, raised the idea of central contracts in October and it has has repeatedly surfaced since the union failed to introduce them when the game went professional in 1995. Traditionally it has been met with staunch resistance but with the financial outlook for the Premiership bleak it has arisen again with clubs finding it increasingly difficult to pay the going salaries for internationals they lose to England duty for around 50% of the season.
McCall, who lost Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Max Malins and Ben Earl to England during the Six Nations, believes a model where the RFU contributes to players’ salaries could be the way forward. He said: “It should be top of the agenda, central contracts. If there is an opportunity to do something a bit differently and for club and country to work very closely together over a particular player. Maybe share his salary? We all know the top international players will be unavailable for half your programme anyway.
“Probably down the years it has been unfair on the club to pay that player his full salary if that’s the case. You need to understand as well that as soon as the RFU start to contribute towards someone’s salary then you lose a bit of control over that player, but I think that’s the right thing to do.”
After England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, the head coach Steve Borthwick conceded that he had “no control” over his players until they joined back up in the summer to begin World Cup preparations. That is in stark contrast to champions Ireland, who employ central contracts with autonomy over the players, whose workloads are carefully managed.
McCall added: “It is a potential solution when you see how well the Irish system works. Central contracts work very well for both provinces and Ireland. It is a bit different here. There are more clubs, but I am sure a sensible, reasonable solution to it can be arrived at if there’s will on both sides to allow that to happen.”