Following last week’s announcement by Premiership Rugby, top level rugby in England has been submerged in the salary cap issue.
Some clubs have been allowed to make ‘confidential settlements’ over salary cap investigations, leading to calls for those outfits - branded ‘cheats’ - to be unmasked.
A selection of clubs have come out and openly said that they were not investigated, prompting worries that those who remained silent had something to hide.
In a bid to give Saints’ point of view, chief executive Allan Robson spent an hour in the company of the local media to issue a clarification, stressing there has been no wrongdoing at Franklin’s Gardens.
The interview in full can be found below...
>Allan, there has been plenty of anger among supporters about the salary cap situation. Has it been a difficult week for club rugby?
“You’re talking about the outcome of a long period with an area of debate around the salary cap. That has been ongoing for a while and it has been in the public knowledge for a while.
“What we’ve had now is a resolution to that lead-up and it’s become public so the clubs have been living with this for a little while.
“This week hasn’t been particularly difficult, but it’s out there now.”
>Can you understand the anger? It feels a bit like a cover-up to most people...
“Some of the clubs, count us in, have had an anger about the whole episode because clearly it’s public now that there have been two clubs who have had settlements because of disagreements as oppose to proven breaches.
“One of the main objectives of the salary cap was an equal playing field so that 12 clubs went out on the pitch pretty much enabled to be similar in terms of their playing departments and that would make life competitive out on the pitch.
“When you believe that some clubs have not complied with the salary cap regulations, and you are one that have, along with the majority, it can make you angry to think ‘hold up, have we just lost a game on even footing?’.”
>Can you say that Saints are not one of the clubs that spend over the salary cap?
“Lety me say one or two things... The first is that Northampton Saints’ strategic plan, approved by the directors, which the company works by, says that one of our objectives is to pay up to the maximum of the salary cap, but not beyond it.
“I have been on the salary cap committee for Premier Rugby for four to five years and I have been a protagonist in promoting and supporting the salary cap and everything it’s stood for, and the policing of it.
“Over my period of four to five years, the regulations have got tighter and loopholes have been closed down. Policing abilities have increased.
“It is the development of those regulations that have put us in a position today where Premier Rugby as a group have accepted there has been an issue that a couple of clubs have been involved with.”
>That’s a pretty definitive no...
“It’s a pretty definitive no.”
>Can you come out and say you were not investigated?
“Our regulations provide for pretty tough auditing.
“We have an independent set of auditors employed by Premier Rugby. They visit each club and they spend a period of time with them, typically a couple of days.
“We have an open-book policy and the Saints have been more co-operative than many have been.
“It can be pretty disruptive to the department but we have always given them an open book to view anything they want to because we believe in the salary cap, we believe in the need for the salary cap and we believe we benefit from the salary cap as a club.
“There is no one more supportive of it than us.”
>If clubs breach the cap, are they cheating?
“The first thing to point out is that a breach has not been accepted.
“There has been a point of difference, which hasn’t had a firm resolution.
“You may take that if there’s a fine or a sanction that someone is willing to pay, that there has been something not as correct as it should have been.
“I can’t talk about breaches because nothing has been proven.
“To go back to the initial question, the answer is absolutely.”
>There is a perception that the clubs have colluded to allow two other clubs to get away with it...
“This was all about a resolution, getting an end to something that is hanging over us so we can move on.
“The clubs together are close and we’re in the best position we’ve been in as a game over here.
“Not everyone is making a loss, which other than ourselves was the case.
“We don’t do badly in Europe but we need to compete in it and have a strong competition over here.
“We don’t want any Manchester United v Stockport taking place in the Premiership.
“It is about moving forward. We’re drawing a line.
“Some clubs have agreed to make a financial settlement, with no proof of breach, but for the greater good they have agreed to put it behind us.
“We move on and look forward.
“If they were breaches, we have to believe - we’ve all looked each other in the eyes and said ‘come on, we’re all in this together’ - that it won’t happen again.”
>Can you see that it has to be more transparent in the future?
“It’s not necessarily been transparent for the insiders either.
“If a club is a alleged to have been in the wrong and they disagree with that, they are not wrong until proven wrong.
“In this instance, my understanding is that there has been no proof.
“This is a settlement that stops the worrying, it stops the wrangling and it goes away, but the most important thing is that we look at each other and say we don’t need any more question marks.
“We’re in this together.”
>But you’re not in it together if some clubs are cheating it?
“I agree, but I come back and say there has been no proof, no evidence, so there can be nothing conclusive.
“Loosely we talk about ‘breach’ and ‘cheat’, and it’s an emotive situation that we all share, but that’s not where we literally are.”
>But is it really possible to police it or is it something you just have to trust someone on?
“It’s the same as everything. If someone wants to breach or cheat anything, they can do, so you have to hope and believe in people, clubs and companies, and that means trust.
“That’s the only way because there is no guarantees in life about anything.
“What we do need is a cohesive group going forward and we need the salary cap objectives to be met.
“That is the ability to spend the same, not from a financial point of view, because some have deeper pockets than others, but from a regulatory point of view, at least we’re all able to spend this sum.
“It stops the wealthier clubs spending three times what a smaller club might spend.
“It at least stops that so it keeps the financial boundaries more even to keep the competition more fair.
“You see Worcester beating Saints, which we didn’t want, but it does make for better competition.
“It does prevent clubs spending what they can’t afford, because this is an emotional game and some could be fooled into spending more than what they should.
“By having a cap, it means they can’t go too far overboard.
“Thirdly, a new objective to next season’s salary cap arrangement - we find ourselves coming up against the French in Europe, where some clubs pay really big money and have two squads as oppose to one.
“As time goes by, we will struggle to compete with them, consequently we’ve increased the cap again to enable those clubs who can afford to meet the cap, to compete better.”
>Has this whole row been damaging to club rugby?
“It’s got to be. You’re getting calls from supporters asking about it, so it has to be damaging.
“But we’ve got the opportunity now to police things better than ever before and the determination to do it is there.
“Everyone is adamant this cannot happen again. We can’t get ourselves in a position where there is big debate on whether it’s right or wrong.
“There is hope for the future.”
>How much of an argument would there be for scrapping the salary cap in future?
“I don’t want to.
“There are two camps. If you go back, (former Saints chairman) Keith Barwell said ‘let’s scrap the cap’.
“Leicester wanted to scrap the cap and it goes back I don’t know how many years.
“Keith said that if we can’t trust that it’s going to be kept, let’s do without it.
“Gloucester felt the same at one time, so it’s opinion.
“If you’re a strong man and you’re 6ft 6ins, you don’t mind fighting a man of 5ft 6ins, but if you’re 5ft 6ins, you don’t want to fight someone of 6ft 6ins, it depends on your strengths.
“We’re a strong club and we’re the only club that makes a profit regularly, but that’s our weakness as well - we believe we have to run our business as a business.
“We have to be the right side of break even and we need to invest in our Academy, which is the future.
“We’ve got the best stadium in club rugby.
“We’ve just put another stand up and we’ve got to pay back another £400,000 a year to give our supporters lovely seats, a nice new bar underneath it.
“We want the best coaches, so you’ve got to pay the best money, so all these things mean that, without a sugar daddy, we have to rely on the business.
“If we take the gloves off, others could go ‘here’s £12million quid’, then someone else may say ‘here’s £15million’.
“There are clubs that will do that and you might even find new owners coming into clubs to throw their money into it and say they will win this thing.
“We can’t match that, so we need the salary cap to work to protect our club.”
>With the new levels coming in next season, how confident are you that you can keep up with those clubs?
“We will be hanging on to it because there will be an increase in the RFU agreement so we will get more money from a central pot and there is a new BT deal that kicks in next year that brings us more money.
“We’re getting more money from the centre and we will look to fund increases in the salary cap from the centre.
“I feel that if I get a million quid, I can spend a million quid because I’m already ahead of the game.
“The other thing is that the new stand will give us 2,000 extra seats and that is another X million pounds a year income.
“We want to sell it out so we can reinvest it into the stadium and squad.
“It’s endless how we can spend money to become a better side.”
>You have to look at new ways of making money, then. With London Irish taking a game to New York, would you consider doing something similar?
“We would consider anything that is sensible and after you’ve considered it, you make decisions yes or no.
“I’m looking at it thinking ‘Irish are a different organisation’.
“New York has got millions of Irish people in it and that’s what they’ll be playing to.
“The costs will be huge to it and I don’t believe we could do it and make it count commercially. The only reason to do that would be commercial.
“We would think ‘what about our supporters here?’. They don’t want to miss a Saints game because it’s in New York.
“We’ve got 10,500 season ticket holders and we can’t put them all on an aeroplane so I don’t see it being a viable option, but I’ve not costed it the way Irish have.”
>But playing games in Milton Keynes is still an option?
“It has to be.
“Not silly, the circumstances have to be right.
“A lot of supporters think it’s brilliant at Milton Keynes, but others say they don’t want to go.
“We take it all into account and we try to make the best decisions we can.
“You have to believe that the staff, the management, the club only want to make the right decisions in what we do.
“If we consider Milton Keynes to be the right decision, we do it.”
>How excited are you about the future of this club?
“I am very excited because I think we can go with the salary cap.
“I think we’ve got the best coaches and playing support people, so I think we can challenge.
“It does worry me that a couple of clubs have deep pockets so when we get down to a marquee player, whatever we spend, other clubs could spend three times that amount because they’ve got the money.
“We’re a lot better off than most of the clubs and the more successful we are on the pitch, the more successful we can be off it and that is fuel for our investment on the pitch. It’s a virtuous circle.
“The new stand is going to be great.
“It wasn’t a great atmosphere at Milton Keynes last week with 20,000, but it’s going to be rocking here next week when we get 15,500 at the Gardens for the Saracens game.
“It’s going to be great for the players to be involved in, great for the supporters and I’m going to be thinking ‘this is my club, I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved’.”