Emotional farewells and tough decisions

Ben Foden has left Northampton Saints after 250 appearances for the club
©Red Hat Photography

As the Premiership draws to a close for another season, the final round brought us very few dramas but a host of goodbyes.

The free movement of players is a natural part of professional sport and can be central to our enjoyment. Transfer debates and selection are hot topics. A marquee signing can produce as much excitement as a win.

Some players will choose to move on for a host of reasons, including development and international aspirations or to increase their earnings. In this environment, the cost of players wages have gone up substantially creating a precarious balancing act, as clubs look to balance the books and the needs of the squad.

Newly appointed Worcester Director of Rugby Alan Solomons has allowed 15 out of contract players to leave as he looks to kickstart the club’s fortunes. While we can’t know if their wage bill has gone up, and it’s worth noting they have signed a number of Championship players, there’s a good bet that even though more players will leave than join the club, they are likely to have spent more.

Todd Blackadder has learnt the hard way the strength in depth needed to be competitive in the Premiership. There is no doubt Bath’s first choice XV are playoff challengers, but injuries are an everyday occurrence in the Premiership and denied several key players, Bath have fallen short. Strength in depth comes at a cost. Over time, this has changed the composition of squads, especially in the backs where top class utility players are now a premium. This makes Matt Banahan’s departure to West Country rivals Gloucester all the more interesting.

Banahan’s move was one of a number of emotional sub plots over the weekend that hinted at the harsher side of professional sport as we saw a number of long standing club servants bid final farewells to clubs in constant transition.  

There’s no doubt Banahan would have wanted to continue his 12-year association with Bath but ultimately the precarious balancing act at Bath left him open to offers from elsewhere. For Gloucester, his ability to cover multiple positions to a superb level made him worth the money, considering the mercurial Henry Trinder has played a large proportion of this season on the wing. Banahan will join Kiwi Tom Marshall and England hopeful Jason Woodward in the back three, all capable of playing full back or centre.

Bath will not be the only one missing familiar faces and fan favourites next year. After 10 years and 250 appearances, Ben Foden has played his last game for Northampton Saints, along with lynchpin Stephen Myler – both victims of a disappointing season. They have been fantastic servants to the club and central to their strong performances, but Saints will know they need to recruit players of a different style and quality to climb the league again. In swapping Stephen Myler for Dan Bigger they have started this process. 

James Haskell has found being an England regular has not afforded him anymore protection as he leaves Wasps after the play-offs. Many of the clubs are finding that having England players on your books is a poisoned chalice. As internationals, you expect more and there’s a demand for them to play. In addition, some believe the sizable match fees paid to England players are forcing their wage demands up. They are missing for large parts of the season; leaving players tired, possibly injured and even out of form.

Haskell, a 77 time capped England international, hopes to be still playing Premiership rugby next season in his hunt to secure a place on the plane to Japan. The 33 years old’s ability and experience is hard to come by in the backrow. It would be sad to see Foden, Myler and Haskell bow out when you feel they still have so much still to give.

The sheer volume of player movement this season stands out and it highlights the pace of change in the Premiership. Clubs cannot afford to have more than a couple of fallow seasons or risk being left behind, and that comes with financial implications. Spending to reach or reobtain play-off and European places or struggle to break even in the lower echelons of the Premiership.

Exeter Chiefs are one of the few clubs to have bucked the trend. Their progress year on year since promotion to the Premiership, evolution and consistency in squad retention, is reflected in their finances. Exeter was the only side to make a profit last season.

Professional sport though is a cut throat business; there’s little room for sentiment and the demand for success comes at a cost.

Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the world...it can only be the Gallagher Premiership.

12 teams compete in the league over a season, playing every team both home and away, before four move into the playoffs and one is relegated.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

At Talking Rugby Union, we aim to provide match reports and news together with our specially commissioned features and interviews.


Premiership Rugby 2018/19 - Points Table


Premiership Rugby 2018/19 Top Points-Scorers


Premiership Rugby 2018/19 - Leading try-scorers