While the salaries of athletes from top-tier sporting leagues such as the NBA, NFL and Premier League are well-known, it can be comparatively difficult to know how much the best rugby players rake in.
And, with the Covid-19 outbreak, some of the game’s biggest names, such as Dan Carter, are set to see their big-money contracts expire without taking to the field again.
Other big earners in Japan, including former All Blacks skipper Kieran Read and Wallabies great David Pocock, face uncertain futures, while it is difficult to accurately estimate the earnings of someone like star All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.
The 28-year-old has signed a four-year deal with New Zealand Rugby which will see him through to the 2023 World Cup in France, but a two-year sabbatical with Kobelco clouds those estimations.
His long-time second row partner Sam Whitelock was in a similar position this year when he was allowed a six-month break from his new four-year deal with NZR to join the Panasonic Wild Knights, but has since returned to New Zealand due to the pandemic, making it no easy task trying to unravel the yearly incomes of the planet’s best players.
Nevertheless, that is exactly what Wales Online have attempted to do, and having taken all of the above into account, they’ve produced a list of the 15 best-paid rugby players – before current and impending pay cuts are taken into account – with all figures convered into $NZD.
15. Faf de Klerk (South Africa/Sale Sharks) – $1.02m
A key member of South Africa’s World Cup-winning Springboks squad last year, halfback Faf de Klerk signed a contract extension with Premiership club Sale Sharks in 2018 that sees him earn half-a-million pounds per year.
14. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand/Blues) – $1.07m
Beauden Barrett signed a big deal with the Blues but has yet to play for them. Photo / Photosport
Two-time World Rugby player of the year Beauden Barrett quashed rumours of a big-money offshore move last year when he signed a four-year deal with NZR that included a high-profile Super Rugby transfer from the Hurricanes to the Blues, though he has yet to take the field for his new franchise due to the coronavirus outbreak. His salary will also take a cut due to New Zealand Rugby’s wage freeze.
13. Finn Russell (Scotland/Racing 92) – $1.10m
Out-of-favour Scotland star Finn Russell reportedly doubled his money when he joined Racing 92 from the Glasgow Warriors in 2018, and has since excelled in France’s Top 14.
12. Johnny Sexton (Ireland/Leinster) – $1.10m
2018 World Rugby player of the year Johnny Sexton returned to his native Leinster five years ago following a brief stint with Racing 92, and has gone on to become Ireland’s highest-paid player.
10= Manu Tuilagi (England/Leicester Tigers) – $1.13m
One of England’s standouts during last year’s World Cup in Japan, barnstorming midfielder Manu Tuilagi turned down a lucrative offer from Racing 92 to sign a two-year extension with the Leicester Tigers six months ahead of the tournament.
10= Stuart Hogg (Scotland/Exeter Chiefs) – $1.13m
Wales Online reports that Scotland captain Stuart Hogg was the highest-paid player in Scotland during his time with the Glasgow Warriors, but added an extra $400,000 to his salary when he joined English club Exeter Chiefs last year.
9. Michael Hooper (Australia/Waratahs) – $1.17m
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper. Photo / Photosport
Despite being able to command bigger paycheques abroad, Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper signed a mammoth five-year contract with Rugby Australia in 2018 in a deal that has made him the highest-earning player in the country following Israel Folau’s departure.
7= Morgan Parra (France/Clermont) – $1.19m
Veteran France halfback Morgan Parra’s international career may have hit a speed bump, but a recent contract extension with Clermont has kept the 31-year-old among one of the game’s top earners.
7= Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina/Stade Francais) – $1.19m
Argentina’s star playmaker Nicolas Sanchez left the Jaguares in Super Rugby two years ago to take a significant pay rise by joining Paris-based Top 14 club Stade Francais.
6. Dan Biggar (Wales/Northampton Saints) – $1.23m
The fifth first-five on this list, Wales pivot Dan Biggar has made the most of his big-money move from Ospreys to Northampton, where he has shone for the Saints since joining in 2018.
5. Steven Luatua (New Zealand/Bristol Bears) – $1.34m
Steven Luatua in action for the Bristol Bears. Photo / Getty
Former All Blacks loose forward Steven Luatua opted for financial riches ahead of a potentially illustrious international career when he left New Zealand to join English side Bristol in the RFU Championship three years ago.
4. Owen Farrell (England/Saracens) – $1.54m
Experienced England five-eighth Owen Farrell is one of many high-earners at embattled Premiership champions Saracens, but will remain at the club next year despite their relegation into the RFU Championship due to salary cap breaches.
3. Maro Itoje (England/Saracens) – $1.8m
Farrell’s club and international teammate Maro Itoje signed a new deal reportedly worth between £750,000 and £1m, with the lock remaining at Allianz Park next year as Saracens prepare to compete in England’s second division.
1= Handre Pollard (South Africa/Montpellier) – $2.05m
South Africa’s World Cup-winning Springboks playmaker Handre Pollard became the joint-richest rugby player in Europe when he agreed to leave the Bulls in Super Rugby to join Montpellier in the Top 14 last year.
1= Charles Piutau (New Zealand/Bristol Bears) – $2.05m
Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua are all in the top 15 highest rugby earners. Photo / Photosport
Ex-All Blacks speedster Charles Piutau deserted his international ambitions at the premature age of 23 when he signed a lucrative deal with PRO14 side Ulster in 2015, and then became British rugby’s first million-pound player when he joined Bristol three years later.
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