THE AVIVA Premiership could split into ‘two tiers’ if the salary cap continues to rise, fears Worcester Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole.
From next season, top flight clubs will have up to £6.5million to spend on players compared to £5.1million for this campaign and the limit will increase again to £7million the following year.
Premiership rugby chiefs said the salary cap hike will help to retain English talent while clubs will receive a further financial reward for holding onto home-grown players.
However, with teams also set to be able to sign two ‘marquee players’ – instead of one – whose salary is not included in the cap, O’Toole felt the changes would only benefit clubs with spending power.
“I am slightly concerned about the pace in which it (the salary cap) is going,” he said.
“Currently you can have one marquee player who you can pay whatever you want, so you can sign Dan Carter and pay him £2million and it doesn’t count towards the salary cap.
“But next year you can have two marquee players – one of which has to be a foreign player who has never played in the Premiership before, so you could bring in two All Black World Cup winners and pay them £1million each.
“If you then have a substantial number of home-grown players, international credits and injury dispensation you can spend £400,000 more.
“So next year’s salary cap of £6.5million suddenly looks like £9million and there are a number of clubs in the Premiership that have no chance ever of spending that amount of money, so there is a worry that we could see a two-tier Premiership.”
O’Toole said winning in Europe had become ‘the holy grail’ for some clubs and believed they would spend the ‘absolutely maximum’ to gain ‘total dominance’.
Warriors have also set themselves lofty ambitions, but O’Toole insisted they would continue to go with their ‘prudent approach’ to achieving their goals.
“If you want to be in the Champions Cup and you want to be consistently in the top four or six that brings a huge a pressure to keep feeding financially the beast,” he said.
“It is an expensive proposition and the way the market is going, players and their agents are in a good position because the top clubs want the best players.
“We have gone on record saying that we will be a salary cap club. That means we will respect the salary cap and where the talent is available we will provide the DOR with the funds to spend up to the cap.
“Our long term goal is to create a long term sustainable Premiership business and out of that comes the team, performances and participation at the top competition in Europe.
“But we will not be reckless and we will seek to build our support and commercial base and ultimately we have visions of increasing the size of the capacity here once we have got the consistent demand for it.”