Wage cap causes tension
Premiership Rugby made a robust case for its salary cap on Friday after Saracens claimed that seven Aviva Premiership clubs have indicated they want the existing system scrapped.
Saracens say the matter will be discussed at a Premiership Rugby shareholders meeting on February 4.
In a press release issued by the club, Saracens said they are "creating a consensus among Premiership clubs to remove the salary cap, releasing the 'handbrake' on English club rugby."
Premiership Rugby introduced a salary cap in 1999.
It is currently £5million per club, and will rise by £500,000 for next season, when clubs will also be able to nominate two marquee "excluded players". That decision was a unanimous one made by Premiership Rugby shareholders earlier this year.
The Premiership's umbrella organisation described the salary cap as "a progressive system whereby the maximum spend is linked to revenue increases from TV and other centralised commercial rights."
In a statement, Premiership Rugby said: "The salary cap ensures the financial viability of the member clubs and underpins the sustainable growth of the competition for all stakeholders.
"In addition, the salary cap provides a level playing field for all clubs, ensures a competitive Aviva Premiership rugby competition; promotes home-grown players and supports the performance of the England team, and allows the recruitment of elite players from other countries through the Excluded Players provision.
"Premiership Rugby keeps the salary cap under constant review and consults with its shareholder clubs to ensure that its regulations remain the most appropriate and proportionate means of achieving its objectives."
Comments made by Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths on Friday come ahead of next year's World Cup in England, after which many of the world's top players are expected to base themselves in Europe on lucrative club deals.
New Zealand star Dan Carter has already agreed a £1.3million per year contract with wealthy French club Racing Metro, while Australia back Adam Ashley-Cooper is to join Bordeaux-Begles.
Any changes to the Premiership salary cap would require a 75 per cent majority of shareholders.
"The salary cap has served its purpose," Griffiths said.
"It's time to seize a golden opportunity to grow the game, to ensure a level playing field in Europe, to build the strongest league in world rugby and to let players earn market-related salaries.
"The combination of England hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and sevens featuring in the 2016 Olympic Games creates a historic, but fleeting, platform for rugby union to grow dramatically. We must release the handbrake and step on the accelerator.
"The clubs need to encourage investment, to provide the spectacle and quality deserved by our broadcast partner, BT Sport, and title sponsor, Aviva.
"It would be a pity if the world's top players light up the World Cup on English soil, and then leave to play club rugby in France. If the salary cap is left to forbid the required investment, it will kill any hope of growth."
Griffiths said he understood the concerns of some clubs regarding wage inflation if the salary cap was removed.
"English clubs must compete in the European Champions Cup against Irish and French clubs spending two or three times as much on players," he added.
"Imagine the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City being asked to compete with Barcelona, FC Bayern and Real Madrid under those circumstances. It would never happen, but it happens in rugby.
"Strong legal opinion suggests the salary cap, as applied, breaches European competition laws.
"We understand some clubs fear the removal of the salary cap will cause wage inflation, yet, in reality, salaries are already being driven by the French clubs. We can either sit back and become a second-rate 'lowest common denominator' league, or we can leap forward.
"Lastly, we must be fair to England international players, who are encouraged to play club rugby in England to be eligible for the national team.
"Their salaries should be determined by the free market, nothing less. It is simply unfair, inequitable and possibly illegal for their pay to be restrained by the artificial mechanism of an outdated salary cap.
"Time moves on. Situations change. The game needs to evolve. In the interests of English rugby, in the interests of building the best league in the world, in the interests of the sponsors and broadcasters, in the interests of the players... it is time to #scrapthecap."
Harlequins chief executive David Ellis described Friday's developments as "somewhat surprising."
Elllis said: "The comments regarding an abolition of the salary cap were somewhat surprising given we have recently had discussions on this very topic as a league.
"The fundamentals of this regulation were approved recently at a shareholder meeting, and so I can't understand why the issue is being raised again so quickly.
"If there is a genuine desire to have a fresh discussion on the salary cap, then we are more than happy to have a debate as a league, but in the right way, in the right forum.
"As a club, Harlequins fully supports the salary cap - it is one of the elements which makes ours one of the most competitive leagues in the world.
"Every game counts in the Aviva Premiership, and that has been more than evident this season. Most of the great leagues globally have salary caps or systems in place to monitor spending."