Saracens’ interim chief executive Edward Griffiths has vowed to “do whatever is reasonably required” to bring an end to the salary cap saga as the threat of automatic relegation looms ever larger for the club .
In November, Saracens were fined £5.3million and hit with a 35-point deduction after it was revealed they had breached the Premiership’s salary cap in each of the past three seasons.
Saracens won the title in two of those years.
When that punishment was handed out it was thought that was the end of the matter, but the situation has now escalated to the point where Saracens could be automatically relegated to the Championship — regardless of how many points they finish the campaign with — as they scramble to avoid breaching the current £7m cap at the end of this season, which they are tracking to do so. They need to trim a significant amount of money imminently.
The bosses of the top-flight clubs spoke at a Premiership Rugby board meeting in London on Tuesday and it was decided that unless Saracens could prove their compliance, they would face the unprecedented step of dropping into the second tier
Griffiths (below) told Standard Sport: “Discussions are continuing and nothing has been finalised but our position remains the same. It is clearly in the interests of the League and English rugby that this matter is dealt with as soon as possible, and we are prepared to do whatever is reasonably required to draw that line.”
Saracens’ players held a team meeting this morning, which was understood to always be taking place, but Griffiths attended to keep them updated on the situation. When Griffiths was appointed this month, he vowed to ensure the club would be under the cap and “whiter than white” this season.
Saracens’ planned approach had been to prematurely offload a series of players who are out of contract in the summer, due to the fact the club are currently on course to be over the cap at the end of the season.
Liam Williams, who has already agreed to join Scarlets in the summer, was someone who could leave early, while Michael Rhodes, Juan Figallo and Calum Clark could have gone midseason, too.
Offloading those players, however, has proved difficult as simply cutting ties with them would not work due to the fact any compensation packages to players are included in the salary cap.
There is also the added difficulty of finding new clubs for players, which is exceptionally hard given other Premiership sides are already spending close to the salary-cap limit themselves due to the CVC investments that came into the League last season. Out-of-contract players in the summer, including wing Alex Lewington, will leave at the end of season, but by then it could be too late to save their top-flight status.
It has left Saracens in a difficult situation and the suggested solution of all players taking a pay cut is possible, but not practical.
The threat of relegation is now a real possibility for the club, who had nine players in England’s World Cup squad last year and a host of other internationals at the tournament in Japan, too.
The futures of the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje would be brought into question simply because the prospect of them playing Championship rugby and representing England is difficult to comprehend, although the RFU clarified this morning that they would be available for selection.
News of Saracens’ possible relegation to the Championship came on the same day that it was revealed Nigel Wray, the club’s owner, had cut formal ties with the club and handed his shares to his children, Lucy, who sits on the board, and Joseph. It was Wray’s co-investments with players that led to an investigation into Saracens and his decision to transfer his shares comes in the wake of him stepping down as chairman this month.
Saracens’ breaching of the cap led to widespread criticism throughout the game and, in November, owners of other clubs, including Exeter Chiefs’ Tony Rowe, called for them to be relegated.
All of this has erupted just days before what is arguably Saracens’ biggest game of the season as they face Racing 92 in the Champions Cup on Sunday
Saracens remain in the hunt to qualify for the quarter-finals, but they must beat Pool Four leaders Racing at Allianz Park and hope to progress as one of the competition’s three best runners-up.
Head coach Mark McCall has recalled his big guns for Sunday’s match and all nine of the players who featured in the World Cup Final have been selected in the starting XV. Victory would keep Saracens’ dream alive of retaining the Champions Cup, but even that would not secure them a place in Europe next season if they were relegated.
Ordinarily the champions automatically qualify for the competition, but Saracens would not as any club not playing in either the Gallagher Premiership, Top 14 or Guinness PRO14 is ineligible to participate in a European club rugby tournament in that same season