A rugby ball and football are not dissimilar in size and shape – not quite spheres, a bit oblong – so it may not surprise some to learn that rugby was originally known as rugby football. It eventually split into two, rugby league and rugby union, governed by the “Rugby League International Federation” and “International Rugby Union,” respectively.
Rugby is an incredibly popular sport in many nations, including New Zealand, France, Australia and the United Kingdom. It hasn’t quite achieved the same level of popularity in North America, which is likely one of the reasons that not many rugby players are known by name in nations outside the rugby core. Sure, everyone has heard of the New Zealand haka – if you haven’t, it’s a traditional war cry or challenge from the New Zealand’s ancestors, the Maori, that many New Zealand teams perform, most notably the All Blacks. However, many North Americans would be hard pressed to name more than one rugby team, let alone individual players. Of course, the players are often featured in lists and photo spreads where international audiences can drool over their well toned physiques, but that's not exactly the same as being respected for your dominance on the field.
Despite this, the sport's popularity in certain nations means that some of its best players do get pretty handsome salaries. It’s a good thing, too – if you’ve ever seen a rugby game, you’ll see just why it’s often called the most brutal and physically demanding sport one could play. In addition to nations like Australia and New Zealand, rugby is also popular in nations like Samoa, Madagascar, and Fiji. While the top players are compensated well, it’s by no means anything in comparison to the salaries that athletes playing professionally in the NFL, MLB, or NBA make. The top earning rugby player of 2015 earns a wage comparable to many average second-string players in other professional sports. They earn a fair wage, but it seems rugby players must play predominantly for the love of the game.
Here are the 10 highest paid rugby players for the year of 2015, with salaries in British pounds to reflect the popularity of the sport in the UK. All figures taken from telegraph.co.uk.
10 Jamie Roberts (£380,000)
Welsh player Jamie Roberts got his start in rugby in his teenage years, representing his home nation in varying levels from Under 16 to Under 19 to Under 21 events. He has played for rugby clubs Cardiff RFC and the Cardiff Blues, before signing in 2013 with Racing Metro. It’s no secret that salaries are generally pretty good at the French clubs, so his salary bump upwards of 300,000 pounds shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t need to worry about Roberts’ prospects should he get a career ending injury, though – he’s also a medical doctor, so he’ll probably be doing just fine when he decides to hang up his cleats and head into the world of medicine. Either world renowned rugby player or successful doctor as two career options? Whoever raised Jamie Roberts did it right.
9 Bakkies Botha (£389,000)
South African player John Philip “Bakkies” Botha has been nicknamed “The Enforcer” due to his reputation as being one of the toughest players in the lock position. He’s represented his home country of South Africa at international events for nearly ten years, and spent almost the entirety of his career with the Blue Bulls rugby union team based in South Africa. His skills got him noticed and in 2011 he moved from the provincial to professional union world as he earned a spot on Rugby Club Toulonnaise (more commonly referred to simply as Toulon). The professional union spot came with a nice salary raise for Botha as well.
8 8. Thierry Dusautoir (£408,120)
Thierry Dusautoir didn’t have to move far from his home country when he was selected to play for French professional rugby union team Stade Toulousain (commonly referred to as Toulouse). He is half French by birth and spent his entire career playing internationally for France as well as for a variety of French union teams such as Biarritz, Bordeaux, and US Colomiers. He’s been with Toulouse since 2006 and shows no signs of slowing down.
7 Morgan Parra (£436,000)
Another Frenchman, Morgan Parra is still in the early stages of his career at only 26, but he’s been impressing quite a few over the past few years. He spent about four years with CS Bourgoin-Jallieu (Bourgoin) before receiving a big contract offer from ASM Clermont Auvergne (Clermont). His loud voice and big personality have led to his popularity with French mainstream media as well as sports fans, and if his success continues, he may very well add to his salary with a slew of endorsement deals. Plus, who knows, he may very well get another salary increase in future years if French team Toulon manages to lure him away, as Parra has a strong record with a variety of French teams, and Toulon seems to have bottomless pockets.
6 Bryan Habana (£474,600)
Habana is a South African wing who spent nearly ten years of his career playing in provincial clubs in South Africa such as the Golden Lions and Blue Bulls. Eventually he was spotted by Toulon in 2013 and moved up to the majors – and with that move came a generous salary increase. He’s won several awards from various rugby organizations for player of the year and try of the year, and at the age of 31, he still has a fair bit of time left to capitalize on his rugby success. His time spent in Toulon will also help, as its a team populated by some of rugby's best and brightest
5 Johnny Sexton (£494,000)
Irish fly-half Johnny Sexton has represented his nation internationally since he was a teenager, but eventually made the move to Racing Metro. While many rugby fans and analysts had high expectations for Sexton, his year with Racing Metro was one where the team struggled. In the 2014-15 season, he returned to Ireland’s Leinster, where he had played for several years prior to the move to Metro. Despite the setback, this young rugby player still has a promising future and a pretty substantial paycheck.
4 Sam Burgess (£500,000)
How many rugby players can say they were courted professionally by a celebrity? Well, Burgess certainly can. Russell Crowe himself coaxed Burgess into choosing his South Sydney Rabbitohs - even poaching him from his team at the time, Bradford, after the teams negotiated a deal. His salary is high in the rugby world, especially when you consider he hadn’t played a professional union game until his signing with Bath (prior to that, his teams were all rugby league). He was pretty devoted to the Rabbitohs, but that big Bath paycheck managed to sway him. Perhaps Crowe started a new trend of celebrities being involved in sports deals. Either way, Burgess has a promising future.
3 Leigh Halfpenny (£600,000)
Welsh rugby player Leigh Halfpenny bounced around from Neath to Cardiff RFC to the Cardiff Blues before signing in 2014 with French team Toulon – the home of many of rugby’s best paid players. He’s represented Wales on the international level at many competitions in many age ranges. He’s a fairly recent addition to Toulon, so he hasn’t produced a lot yet, but his highly hyped status managed to snag him a big salary. If he manages to become one of Toulon's best over the course of the next few years, Halfpenny has a very good chance of catapulting himself to the status of top paid player.
2 Matt Giteau (£700,000)
French club Toulon has absolutely stacked their team with some of the best players in rugby within the past few years, thanks in part to the generous salaries they frequently offer players. Australian rugby player Matt Giteau is no different – signed to Toulon in 2011, his most recent paycheck made him the second best paid player in the world of rugby. What’s one of the reasons for his larger than life salary? Well, loyalty, for one. After a few successful years with Toulon, Racing Metro started to court Giteau, offering him a salary increase that would make him the best paid player in rugby. He avoided temptation and Toulon rewarded him for the gesture. Take note, players who bounce from team to team in search of more money and better opportunities - sometimes staying put and showing loyalty can earn far higher rewards.
1 Dan Carter (£1,000,000)
Given the incredibly strong ties between New Zealand and rugby, it likely comes as no surprise that the highest paid rugby player in 2015 hails from the land of the Kiwi. Popular team Racing Metro offered Carter an astounding one million pound salary, partly from his base salary and partly from his many endorsement deals. He’s been a hugely successful member of the New Zealand national team for nearly his entire career, and played provincially with Canterbury over the years as well as with the Crusaders in Super Rugby. His mega-bucks paycheck means he’ll likely stay in Paris for awhile with Racing Metro 92. The question is, will someone try to lure him away with a higher salary? He's a very recent addition to the French team, so only time will tell.