Sydney - The ARU will further cut the number of Wallaby contracts on offer
this year in a move expected to put pressure on Super Rugby franchises
trying to retain local players within a reduced salary cap.
Chief executive John O'Neill said the ARU would sign 32
Test players, two fewer than last year, after slashing that number down
from 54 so-called ''top-up'' contracts four years ago.
''That was, for a lot of reasons, too many and
unsustainable and highly impractical and too costly,'' he said. ''The
universal opinion … was to get that Wallaby top-up figure down to
close to 30, we're currently at 32.''
In an arrangement similar to Cricket Australia's
contracting process, the anointed 32 players will be ranked in value by
Wallabies coaches Robbie Deans and David Nucifora before being offered
contracts reflecting their position in the pecking order.
But in a scenario likely to make life more difficult for
Super Rugby clubs, players must finalise their provincial contracts
before going into negotiations over their Wallaby deals. It means clubs
will no longer be able to factor in, with any certainty, a player's
Wallaby top-up payment and forecast match fees when countering offers
from overseas clubs.
''It used to be the reverse sequence - come to the ARU first and do your provincial contract second,'' O'Neill said.
''It is a shift in accountability more pointedly back to
the franchises to run their franchise within their own budget
O'Neill was speaking at the launch of Pacific in Union, a
new partnership between the ARU, the International Rugby Board and the
Australian government's development agency AusAID, which will send
''rugby ambassadors'' into Pacific island nations in an effort to
promote social and cultural development.
The ARU is in the midst of delicate negotiations with the
Rugby Union Players Association over the new collective bargaining
agreement, which covers the incoming salary cap and other player
O'Neill said that he hoped the ARU and the association could come to agreement by the end of this month.
''It's down to a handful, literally a handful, four or five deal breakers, but [we're] pretty close,'' he said.
There is talk the salary cap may be increased to $4.8
million next season but about $800 000 of that would have to come from
the provinces themselves.
O'Neill said on Wednesday the franchise contribution was essential to securing agreement over the final figure.