Wilkinson heads Top 14 pay league
August 12, 2013
Veteran playmaker Jonny Wilkinson opted to put offf retirement earlier this year and extend his playing days by one more season © Getty Images
Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson will reportedly still be the highest paid player in France's Top 14 this season despite accepting a pay cut.
Top 14 Pay League
It was reported earlier this year that new Racing Metro fly-half Jonathan Sexton had put signed the most lucrative contract in French rugby's top flight but fresh reports claim Wilkinson's latest deal will see him eclipse his Irish rival.
Le Journal du Dimanche reports that Wilkinson, who steered Toulon to the Heineken Cup crown and the Top 14 final last season, will earn €56,000 (£48,155) per month this year having delayed retirement in favour of a new one-year deal April. The 33-year-old agreed to a drop in earnings but they still top the €52,000 (£44,711) that Sexton will reportedly receive for his efforts and the €50,000 (£42,991) that lured South Africa international Bryan Habana to Toulon this summer.
According to LJDD.com, Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra is the highest paid French player on a salary of €46,000 (£39,555) a month and his is closely followed by his international team-mates - Toulouse flanker Thierry Dusautoir (€43,000/£36,975)and Racing hooker Dimitri Szarzewski (€41,000/£35,254).
But while the league's top stars continue to benefit from the generosity of the leading clubs, the newspaper reports that average Top 14 salary - €14,300 in 2012-13 - is likely to fall this season for the first time since the league went fully professional in 1997. The players' union Provale claims that the decrease may be as much as "10-15%" having monitored contract dealing during the off-season.
Paul Goze, president of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, the governing body for the Top 14 and second tier ProD2, has attempted to play down any fears the game may be suffering. "We have experienced double-digit growth in revenue (+55% between 2006 and 2009) and spectators with average attendance growing from 2,400 in 1997-1998 to 14,000 today. Maybe we have just reached a plateau, but having wages stagnate or decline slightly and budgets increase as this season is a sign of good management. "
Wilkinson's package reportedly includes significant remuneration for his image rights that it is claimed make up over half of his salary with Toulon who along with Racing Metro, Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse are thought to have maximised the €10m (£8.6m) salary cap that dwarfs the £4.5m limit in the English Premiership. But Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal, is confident his side's spending is under control. "We flirted dangerously with salaries of one million euros a year," said Boudjellal. "Today it is around 600,000 euros."
As with the English game, the salary cap is a subject of intense debate - especially given the continuing difficult economic climate. "This rule was invented by the Gang of Four [Toulouse, Biarritz, Clermont and Stade French] to prevent Racing, Toulon and Montpellier to recruiting as they see fit," alleges Racing Metro president Jacky Lorenzetti.
It is understood the salary cap - that was raised this season - will be strictly policed this season with breaches set to be punished. But Boudjellal, an outspoken critic of the cap, has alleged some clubs are manipulating the system and feels his efforts to grow his club and the game are hampered by the financial restrictions.
"Many club presidents are leading large groups that can pass accounts abroad to circumvent the salary cap," he told the newspaper. This rule is actually intended to protect those clubs rooted in historically rugby towns yet these clubs are destined to disappear. They will give way to Lille, Nantes and Marseille."
However, Goze has no intention of scrapping the salary cap. "If we allow too much of a gap between payrolls, the Top 14 will lose its appeal. Rugby is not football and two teams of very different levels cannot offer an interesting game."
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton made the switch to Racing Metro this summer © Getty Images
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