ENGLAND'S Aviva Premiership clubs will have an extra £500,000 to spend on players' wages next season after agreeing to a rise in the salary cap from £4.26m to £4.76m.
With academy credit add-ons, Premiership clubs will able to spend up to £5m on their squads under the league-set standard limit.
Clubs in the top flight will still have the provision of the excluded player, allowing them to nominate one marquee star whose wages fall entirely outside the salary cap. Phil Winstanley, the director of rugby, rejected the notion that Premiership Rugby has made the change in a bid to keep pace with spiralling and unchecked spending in the French Top 14 and Japanese league. He also confirmed that this salary cap rise is not dependent on specific revenue from BT Sport's European rugby television deal.
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PRL will usher in the rise whatever the situation regarding a European club rugby competition next season. "A lot of people will reach their own conclusions that we're trying to combat the French or Japanese market," Winstanley said, "and that's very much not the case. At the end of the day, the economic landscape between ourselves and the French clubs is extremely different, so it's not for us to try to keep up with them.
"We're trying to gradually build the cap in accordance with increasing revenues. We have commercial success through our programmes with BT, Aviva and the likes and, as the revenues increase, we think it's right to allow clubs to spend some of that through the salary cap. But we have to stay strong to our message: it has to be financially viable.
PRL's academy credit system allows clubs to register eight homegrown players under the age of 24 for a £30,000 exemption per player from the squad wage cap. The first £30,000 of any club academy graduate, up to a limit of eight players, can also be added on to the £4.76m ceiling.
Premiership Rugby officials also pledged to publicise any future breaches, and impose potential fines and points deductions.
n Keith Earls has become the latest Ireland internationalist to agree terms with the Irish Rugby Football Union after signing a new two-year contract with Munster. Earls has won 39 caps since making his debut in 2008, scoring 12 tries, and has made 91 appearances for Munster.
The 26-year-old, who can play on the wing or at outside centre, rejected offers from English and French clubs to continue his career in Ireland. Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien recently agreed new deals but a doubt remains over over Top 14 target Jamie Heaslip.
"This Munster team has shown it has what it takes to compete with the best in Europe and I look forward to playing my role in bringing further success to both Munster and Ireland."
The IRFU has proved successful in convincing its international stars to continue playing in Ireland, with Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien recently agreeing new deals.
The only remaining doubt hangs over Top 14 target Jamie Heaslip, whose contract expires at the end of the season.
In contrast, the Welsh Rugby Union has witnessed an exodus of players to France, with the possibility of others such as Wales captain Sam Warburton and prop Adam Jones following in their footsteps.
"Keith is a proven finisher and has shown guile and determination throughout his rugby career for both Munster and Ireland," IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said.