Are Rugby players rolling in money or just rolling in the mud?

Money and sport is an emotive issue. Footballers, we are told, are obscenely overpaid for kicking a bit of air-filled plastic around, with their manicured mates.

Cynics comment that rugby is becoming more and more like football. But, how wealthy is the modern professional rugby player? The answer may surprise you.

The Payslip:

An average player in the Aviva Premiership earns approximately £81,000 per-annum.  Major stars such as Nick Evans or Martin Castrogiovanni will earn between £180,000- £300,000. Carl Hayman earned £330,000 at Newcastle. The precise numbers vary from club to club, depending on what positions they prioritise within their salary cap and the number of burgeoning youngsters they promote. 

Top-level academy contracts equate to around £10,000, with many university students and mid-level full-timers earning anywhere between £1,000-£7,000.

International players also have the benefit of test match appearance fees.  At the 2011 World Cup, England players received £8,545 per-test. England cricketers earn £9,000 per-test.

The money is unarguably good, but careers are short, physically demanding and each day a player risks serious, long-term injury. Many academy players struggle to get by on their wage.

The Top 14 in France does not have a salary cap and can offer substantial contracts. Toulouse are reputed to run on a budget of €33.1m with some players earning £750,000 or more per-year. Bordeaux have the smallest Top 14 budget, a ‘mere’ €8m, nearly double the Aviva Premiership maximum. The financial and lifestyle incentives, for moving,  are obvious.


Context is needed to fully understand these figures. At Chelsea, the average WEEKLY wage is reportedly £68,946 and the Barclays Premiership yearly average is £1.46m.

Bear in mind that most football sessions start at 10am and the ‘gaffer’ has them done and dusted by midday. A Rugby player is in at 7am and finished well after their footballing cousins have zoomed off, in their Lamborghinis, to play Call of Duty and chase supermodels around Mahiki.  

Mercenary? :

Jamie Roberts drew severe criticism from some quarters for pursuing the allure of the euro in moving to Racing Metro. A variety of comments in social and mainstream media, labelled him a ‘sell-out’, ‘greedy’ and ‘lacking commitment to Welsh rugby’.  Such comments are judgemental and are easily said from the pristine air of the moral high ground. In simple terms, who amongst us would not seize the opportunity to move to Paris, learn French, earn better or equal money, still represent our country and achieve this all before being tied down with a young family? Precisely.  

Top 14 Champions Toulouse have a massive budget

The changing face of rugby:

Anybody who believes rugby is sliding inextricably towards football’s culture of immediacy and greed, is wrong. Yes, players are well-paid but they do significantly more than a footballer to earn significantly less.  Events at Sale have been more representative of football but by and large, rugby teams still show a lot of patience with their coaching set ups.  A footballing equivalent of Stuart Lancaster could never have become England manager. 

Wealthy owners are not changing the face of rugby. Bruce Craig is an immensely wealthy man but he cannot go out and buy anybody he wants. Rugby has a salary cap of £4.26m.  Bath cannot become Man City overnight.  Wealthy owners must be embraced because for the time being, only four premiership clubs make a profit. The clubs are Exeter, Northampton, Gloucester and Leicester. Saracens lost £5.6m in 2011.

A day out at the rugby remains a pleasant experience and is truly welcoming to all ages.  Fans get disgruntled, but the fact the growing trend of booing kickers is criticised, is indicative that rugby still has its soul intact.  

For now, domestic based rugby players, are rolling in the mud and not money.


24 responses

  1. Great insight into the financial world of professional rugby, it would be interesting to draw comparisons with other less high profile sports across the country, such as gymnastics and rowing, both of which bring enormous international sporting success to the country, as seen at numerous recent Olympic Games.

    1. That is definitely something worth looking at. I think most of those sports are heavily reliant on sponsorship but I would need to delve a little deeper.

      1. will rugby ever compete with football interms of earning. coz its unfair a rugby player 60000 per annum and footballers 100000 per week.

  2. Do you think they need to get rid of the salary cap in England and Welsh regions then to stop talent drain?

    1. Tricky question. Its very low in Wales (just over £3m). If you abolish it then you risk losing the competitive nature of the league. Bath could put out an internationally capped match squad within a season. London Welsh could not. For now, it should be raised, undecided on how much! Do not want a repeat of football clubs and administration

  3. Very good post. I will be quoting this in the pub!

    1. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Always good to have a fact or two up your sleeve!

  4. One question I am asked regularly is ‘How much do rugby players earn?’ I will quote your article in future. Excellent post.

  5. This is put perfectly into perspective, rugby players play with passion earning less than the football players who want only glory. They earn half of what a footballer earns in a week every year!

    1. The difference is quite staggering isn’t it! Rugby players deserve more but I think astronomical sums in football have impacted upon respect and behaviour.

  6. What of Championship rugby players? Some clubs field part-time players, who earn a wage outside of rugby. What do their clubs pay to keep them playing, week in week out?

    1. The clubs who field part-time players pay (most of them do) match fees and travel expenses. A lot of clubs will pay around £250-300 per match with some paying as much as £500.

    2. My contract at Birmingham Solihull was £600 per month and a match fee of 100 Per game and a win bonus of £50 per win

  7. Excellent article, something along the same lines that I would like to know is: How much do clubs pay for players on the market (transfer fees). e.g. How much cash would Northampton have had to stump up for George North?

    1. Thanks Mike. It is normally a case of buying out the rest of their contract and is included in the cap! This means it will become more common as people search for ways around the cap. Say North was on £150,000 a season ,with one year left, then Saints will have had to pay £150,000, unless they reached a private agreement with Scarlets.

  8. I’m the wife of a Premeriship rugby player..while you say the average is £80,000 (ish) A LOT of rugby player don’t earn close to that. A LOT have to put their bodies through pure hell, smashed bones, ripped ligaments/muscles, disintegrated joints, for around £30,000-£60,000. Take out the top earners from your average and your numbers would be more realistic. Every rugby player I know suffers from constant, daily pain and most have arthritis by the time they are 20. So no, they are not paid well.

    1. Thanks for your comments. There is no doubt whatsoever with regards to how hard rugby players work. It is hard to think of a more physically demanding occupation. I wholeheartedly agree. All my figures were taken from the Rugby Players Association. For what they do and compared to football, no it is woeful pay, but compared to the national wage average, it is quite decent.

  9. You stated that France doesn’t have a salary cap, however I have read that in 2009 they brought in an €8m cap for the 2010/11 season, which was then upped to €9.5m for the season just gone. Although I’ve also read that clubs were likely to find creative ways to skirt the cap, so I’m not sure whether the cap is actually adhered to. Still, it’s double the British caps, so the incentive to move is still there!

  10. Football is men kicking air filled plastic??? Rubby is double the men try to get air filled plastic and kicked some freekick. I think footballer deserved for the money because they use only their legs to play not like rubby(catch the ball by hands and run!!! Everybody could do that). And why people like football because the footballer can do what people can not do like Roberto Carlos – Impossible Goals (youtube).

  11. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this
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  12. What all you dont get is that rugby players are real men who are strong and fast and there also playing rugby for the game not the money unlike soccer or basketball players who are just in for the money and if you where a top player at rugby such as kurtley beale dan carter….. You can earn 4/5 million a year so i think there being paid half of what they should be because rugby is one of the toughest sports out there unlike soccer who are skinny little girls.

  13. Can’t pay them much when the crowds are tiny and there is little TV money because it is a niche product. That’s life I’m afraid.

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