“The market as a whole is tough for any senior player,” Day told i. “And it is becoming tougher, because the salary cap is squeezing them. You could find yourself as a 25, 26-year-old good Premiership player, and there just isn’t a spot for you and you need to be flexible. We do think it’s the worst year for that senior middle group of players.
“I wouldn’t say we are getting stories of hardship – certainly there is a lot of adaptation. They’ve likely gone to another league or another part of the world – you have got the French league thriving, the league in Japan is thriving, the MLR in America is starting to recruit good quality players. Or alternatively our belief is the players need to be doing something right now for life after rugby, and they don’t just fall out of the game. That’s the thing we really want to avoid, and we ultimately have to pick up the pieces if that does happen.”
Northampton Saints recently announced a first-team squad expanded from 58 players to 60, with a strong academy contingent. The club released nine players in May, including 27-year-old hooker Reece Marshall who made 60 first-team appearances but has dropped two divisions to be a part-time player-coach at Chinnor, while working as a housing site manager. London Irish prop Ryan Bower has gone to Coventry and Newcastle fly-half Joel Hodgson on a short-term deal to Glasgow, while Sale’s 29-year-old full-back Simon Hammersley has retired to work in the City. There are players facing similar dilemmas, or in limbo, at almost every club.
The RPA’s “Gain Line” scheme helps players to plan for life after rugby. Day said: “The engagement level is better than ever – which is kind of counterintuitive, as you think as the game becomes more professional, players might just think ‘I don’t need to do that stuff’.”
For the proposed free-agent list to work at its best, players would need to agree the sharing of data such as their nationality and EU working status, and for all 13 clubs’ directors of rugby and recruiters to sign up.
“The list is something they do in France, and it’s very successful,” Day said. “We will build and circulate a list of every player who’s coming off contract to make sure that every player has every chance of finding a contract. It’s looking more like it’ll be an end-of-season thing, run it from March through to the end of June, which is when the contracts close off.”
The Premiership salary cap is set to go back up to £6.4m from the 2024-25 season, and it is bound to remain controversial, particularly if clubs start seeing a profit.
Meanwhile, Day would like to see the RPA as signatories to the next Professional Game Agreement between the Rugby Football Union and the clubs, with an English version of the collective bargaining seen in many American and Australian sports.