Cash-strapped Wallabies face pay cuts
October 17, 2013
Wallabies players will have even more reason to celebrate future victories © Getty Images
The Wallabies are poised to accept pay cuts to help stop the cash-strapped code going broke, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement set to end the days of Australia players earning a guaranteed $14,000 per Test - win, lose or draw.
The Australian Rugby Union's survival is at stake as it sits in a perilous financial position after recording a $A19 million deficit in the past two years and a worrying slump in support for the game. The Wallabies' dismal results this year - winning just three of their nine Tests to drop to No.4 in the world - have also impacted attendances and sponsorship.
ARU boss Bill Pulver, in his own words, has "brutally attacked the cost base" by making cuts across the board in eight months since replacing John O'Neill as ARU chief executive, but even the welcome windfall from the British & Irish Lions tour won't get the union out of the hole dug by years of over-expenditure, largely with executive salaries.
Pulver has already slashed employee numbers at the ARU, made significant cutbacks to the high-performance unit, and shelved the national academies in Brisbane and Sydney.
"My first six months at the ARU a lot of my time has been spent ripping costs out of the place basically," Pulver said. "It's not been a lot of fun but it's been a very important cleansing experience. From a financial perspective we're going to be skating on thin ice for the next couple of years. Can we get through? Yes, we can. Is it going to be bloody hard? Yes, it is."
Warnings of cuts to club rugby have made Pulver, looking to develop a new third-tier national competition, unpopular in club circles but he's making no apologies for taking drastic measures for the good of the game.
The proposed reduction of player salaries has firmly been on the agenda, as Pulver told ESPNscrum in May, and it should be revealed when the new CBA, the first since 2005, is finalised in the coming months.
The ARU board meets on Monday to discuss ongoing negotiations with the Rugby Union Players Association. Pulver and RUPA boss Greg Harris have each confirmed that Test match payments were among issues being addressed. Current payments see a Wallabies player earn $196,000 on top of his salary if he plays all 15 Tests this year.
Rugby World Cup 1991-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones has led calls for incentive-based pay, claiming Wallabies should be paid far less for defeats, and Harris said the players union was taking a conciliatory approach to ensure the game doesn't go under. "[RUPA] have been united in their commitment in trying to assist the game in trying to confront the financial issues," Harris said.
Rugby was in rude health when the ARU last drafted a new CBA, in 2005, with $35 million in the ARU war chest and crowd numbers that had it challenging rugby league as the nation's No.2 code, and Harris said that top players had benefited from a generous deal in the prosperous times.
"My predecessor [Tony Dempsey] did a very good job of negotiating for the players when the dams were full and there was plenty of water around, but we have a drought at the moment so we all have to drink a little bit less," Harris said. "The players are being very responsible."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game