Wasps may not be able to hold on to players


THE UNCERTAINTY surrounding the contractual future of several Wasps players shows little sign of easing, with a dozen squad members believed to be unhappy at the club's reluctance to negotiate new deals. As well as Danny Cipriani and James Haskell, fellow England internationals Tom Rees, Riki Flutey and Dave Walder are among those still to agree terms, and there is increasing interest from other clubs, who are now free to hold talks with the players.

Stade Francais and Bath are understood to be heading a lengthy queue of suitors keen to sign Haskell, with the former reported in France to have made the England flanker an offer worth €400,000 a year, while a host of clubs across Europe are attempting to lure Cipriani.

Harlequins yesterday ruled out making a move for the 21-year-old. The club's director of rugby, Dean Richards, poured scorn on a suggestion that he was interested in signing him to play at fullback.

"I have no idea where that story came from," he said. "We have no interest in Danny Cipriani."

Rees will be able to devote more time to his contract negotiations after yesterday being ruled out of action for two months with a knee ligament injury. His absence could open the England door for the powerful London Irish flanker Steffan Armitage, who has been a key player in their rise to the top of the Premiership. Rees is believed to be closer than the others to signing, having been offered the captaincy next season, but nothing is likely to happen until this day week, when the Premiership club owners meet to discuss the salary cap.

There will be calls to reduce it from €4.5 million to less than €4 million to take into account the drop in turnover being endured by most clubs in the credit crunch.

That would have a knock-on effect on wages and, while Wasps should be the chief beneficiaries from the deal between the Rugby Football Union and the clubs over the management of elite players, supplying players to the national set-up is still costing them.

Under the agreement, the RFU pay the clubs nearly €170,000 a year for every player they supply to the elite squad. But sides do not receive anywhere near that sum because of an equalisation policy adopted by Premier Rugby, which sees more money paid out of central funds to clubs who have few or no players in the 32, and less handed out to those like Wasps and Leicester who have a significant representation.

Wasps argued against the policy and the RFU has called on Premier Rugby to reconsider it. While it remains, Wasps, who lost more than €2 million last year and are set to be in the red by a similar sum this year, will struggle to pay the going rate for so many current internationals.

Added to that is anxiety over their league position. The champions are known for making surges late in a season, but they have it all to do to finish in the top six and so qualify for next season's Heineken Cup, let alone make the play-offs.

It makes for a position where, while Wasps want the players to stay and the players themselves are not anxious to move, economic reality may force them to act. Add to the mix uncertainty over the future of the club's director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, and it is no surprise these are volatile times at Adams Park.