Monday, April 02, 2007

Big Boys Making Big Dollars

October 5, 2006

Hugh Godwin writes in The Independent about the new elite: "props of big wages."

Top dollar goes not to fancy-dans but the coalface worker

01 October 2006

Cast your eye over your favourite rugby team and who do you think is the best paid? Maybe that wing, with the dazzling sidestep and a kit bag full of hair gel? How about the fly-half with the boot of gold and a smile to melt your mother's heart? Think again. Think the tighthead prop, the best of whom are earning a cool quarter of a million pounds a year.

Based on their rarity value and specialist skills, props - and particularly tightheads - have been the subject of almost every significant tug of war in this year's transfer market. And when the player on the end of the rope is, say, the 6ft, 19st tighthead Kees Meeuws, it takes quite a tug. Meeuws quit his French club Castres in June after a fall-out with the coach and Harlequins, desperate to sign big in the front five on their return to the Premiership, offered £130,000 a year for the 32-year-old veteran of 42 All Black Tests. They were not even close. Meeuws could name his price at more than £200,000 a year, including a house and a car, and another French side, Agen, paid it.

The rest of that piece is subscription only.

Stuff Sports has more:

Former All Black Kees Meeuws has proved props are almost worth their weight in gold on the Northern Hemisphere rugby circuit.

England's Independent newspaper reported that Meeuws apparently had no trouble getting a deal worth STG200,000 ($NZ578,900) a year at French club Agen.

Meeuws quit with French club Castres in June after a fall-out with the coach, and English club Harlequins, reportedly offered STG130,000 a year for the 32-year-old veteran of 42 tests.

It was a long way off the Agen offer, which included a car and house.

"There's no doubt a tighthead prop is more valuable than any other player because there's fewer of them of the right quality," said Mike Burton, a leading player agent and veteran of England's front row of the 1970s.

"A prop of the right credentials starts at STG150,000, going up to STG250,000."

Harlequins team manager Mike Scott said a top quality tighthead was incredibly scarce and worth more than a top first five-eighth.

England No 10, Charlie Hodgson, is believed to be on a basic STG160,000 a year at Sale.

The rule applies even in cash-strapped South Africa. Natal Sharks paid a record 1.2million rand ($NZ272,600) to sign the pin-up Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery.

They topped that in May by forking out 1.5million rand ($NZ340,000) for the Namibia prop Kees Lensing from the Bulls.

"There are lots of boys between 6ft and 6ft 6 who are not squat enough to be props and not tall enough to be locks," Burton said.

"So there is a surfeit of back rows. If you're in the backs, with a few tweaks you can play in any position. But if you want a prop there are fewer men around of the required size and durability. And then there's the mental approach. You need someone who's a gunslinger. If I've got a young prop I rate highly I'll make sure he's not on a long contract. Because as soon as he goes in and holds his own in a big game his value will shoot up."

Another former All Black, Craig Dowd, who is now a forward coach at English club Wasps, said props were like fine wines, taking time to mature.

"I played for New Zealand with Olo Brown, one of the great tightheads. He only came into his own at 23 or 24 and got better."

[UPDATE:] Richard Loe not surprised.


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