Reigning Premiership champions Saracens have been sentenced with relegation from the top league of English rugby after being found guilty of breaking salary cap regulations over the last 3 years.
This penalty was handed to them on 18th January this year. They had been sanctioned in November, when they were docked 35 points and ordered to pay £5.3 million as a fine for salary cap breaches.
News such as this is colossal in magnitude no doubt, but for many rugby fans, it may not have come as a total surprise.
Saracens are one of the power houses of European rugby. They have won the European Cup 3 times, which is more than any other English team.
Naturally, they have therefore consistently attracted many of the world’s best players over the last decade, but this has now come at a price not only in the finance department, but also on the rugby pitch.
The thought of England World Cup stars such as Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola plying their trade in the second division of English rugby in the 2020/21 season seems ludicrous and this relegation could see them lose some of their best players.
The full report investigating Saracens financial behaviour regarding their players and salaries provides a damning insight into just how far past the line Saracens have gone.
The report, released by Premiership Rugby (PRL), details Saracens overspending: 2016/17 £1.1 million overspend, 2017/18 £98,000 overspend, 2018/19 £906,000 overspend.
The extent of the breach is clear to see. The details of the breach are even more incriminating given that the ways in which the club have attempted to cover up their overspending are obvious.
One of the clearest ways in which this can be seen is with the financial dealings of recently resigned chairman Nigel Wray.
Wray has put nearly £924,000 into property co-investments with players which serves to provide them with off-the-books bonuses on top of their Premiership contrasts.
The decision to relegate arguably the best team in English rugby at this moment is a massive statement of intent from PRL. It begs the question as to how this will affect transfer policies across all Premiership teams.
Teams such as Sale Sharks, Bristol Bears and London Irish have made a flurry of signings over the past 18 months. You would be forgiven for wondering whether there will be further investigations from PRL in the months to come.
There are of course worries for Eddie Jones and his England side too.
7 of England’s Six Nations squad currently play their rugby at Saracens, and this report into their salaries and contracts has plenty of potential to cause friction in the squad.
On the other hand, perhaps the wily Jones can use this situation to his advantage.
New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is one who believes that Jones will galvanise on the situation. He has said that “I know I’d be using the situation if I was Eddie – and Eddie’s not stupid”.
Jones himself has suggested that coming to the England camp and getting away on a training break to Portugal is the best thing for the Saracens players. In particular he has suggested that Portuguese beer will help.
This is an important 6 Nations for England as they come into the tournament as favourites after falling short at the final hurdle at last year’s World Cup in Japan. They still have a big challenge ahead of them to overcome the likes of Wales, who were Grand Slam winners last time out.
Whatever happens with the Saracens players in the England camp, the situation is looking increasingly dire for the club.
Relegation is certain but other than that nothing else can be said to be sure. They risk losing status, fans and a number of world-class players.
Image rights: oatsy40 via Wikimedia Commons