The day can't be far off when you could play an over-30's version of the Rugby Championship in France. It's not quite that the T14 is the Dunrucking Retirement Home for Aged Southern Hemisphere Rugby Players, but, dear Lord, how the likes of Toulon are buying up players.
Of course, one of the latest, and one of the most expensive, acquisitions is Jonathan Sexton, moving to Racing Metro for the reported figure of €600,000 per annum. The strip-mining of Welsh talent has reached a pitch that is uncomfortably reminiscent of how League denuded Wales of players in the late '80s and early '90s. And still it continues, with Rocky Elsom now going to Toulon. There is a lot of money in French rugby, as THIS infographic from Green & Gold Rugby shows.
It is, in many respects, very like the manner in which the English Premiership in soccer has cornered the market. One must also wonder about the sustainability of it all, even given the strict financial rules that the Top14 imposes (and it must be said, the T14 is very transparent on this).
It's in this light that recent moves by the European Commission are interesting. Sport is an area over which the European Union has some oversight - it's a European competence, in the jargon - and decisions such as Bosman and Kolpak highlight this (on which this blog has touched in the past). Some of the work on the subject is excellent - I thoroughly recommend the European Parliament's document on the European dimension in sport, drawn up by the man who opened up Croke Park to rugby games which you can read HERE (it's long, but genuinely worth taking the time to read and reread at leisure). - and when the Commission turns its attention to sport and the insane money sloshing around some sports, then it's worth paying attention.
You can read the original document HERE and a good precis of it from the Guardian HERE. In essence; money, and beserk inflation of transfer fees, is destroying competition in European football and creating a de-facto closed shop. It has a raft of concrete proposals, largely aimed at rebalancing the effect of this closed shop and going some way to addressing the issues raised in the original Bosman case about protecting player development. Even the Premiership in soccer is now starting to take these issues of sustainability seriously as you can see in THIS piece from the Guardian (although the numbers involved are still eye-watering).
It will, of course, also affect rugby. And it's interesting to reflect on how this would work. Already, the president of Aviron Bayonnais has been speaking about a similar division between the haves and have-nots developing in the T14 to the extent of floating the idea of a union between the two Basque rivals to stay competitive (and to get an idea of that rivalry, Google "Imanol Harinordoquy father"). and we are now in the position where French clubs are outbidding national unions who develop the players. It has an effect on French rugby, too; while the T14 isooming, French coach Philippe Saint-André has been in the press bemoaning the dearth of French out-halves, and - in a sentence I never thought I would see - France are currently bottom of the Six Nations table, winless, after three games (although grim familarity with what it's like supporting Irish rugby leads me to just know that come the game against Ireland, they'll turn back into the sort of French team that can cut the All Blacks to ribbons).
It also seems to be affecting the international game. The issue of player release for the Lions this summer has been a touchy subject, and the (French) President of the IRB, Bernard Lapasset has been speaking on the subject of how money is now causing problems for the test game and player release - HERE. It is interesting to note that the European Parliament document referred to above also notes the problem and emphasises clubs should release players for tests.
It has not yet reached the point where legislation on the subject has come in. But it is as well to flag the issue, because it is one of the major factors in rugby as a professional game, and it is not going to go away soon. And the steps taken to deal with the dysfunctional elements in other sports will certainly hit rugby, too. Best we know what's coming down the tracks before it hits us.