Saracens salary cap breach: Premiership champions will not contest sanctions

BBC News

Saracens celebrate winning the Premiership in 2019
Saracens have won four of the past five Premiership titles

Premiership champions Saracens have confirmed they will not be contesting their points deduction and fine for breaching the league’s salary cap.

They have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36m after an inquiry into business partnerships between owner Nigel Wray and some of their players.

Wray said the club “made mistakes” and accepted the penalties “with humility”.

Mark McCall’s side have subsequently dropped from third to bottom of the Premiership with -22 points.

“As a club, we will now pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead,” added Wray, who had previously vowed to “appeal against all the findings”.

“We confirm our commitment to the salary cap, and the underlying principle of a level playing field, and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard.”

Premiership Rugby’s chief executive Darren Childs welcomed Saracens’ decision.

“This is the right outcome for English club rugby,” he said. “Bringing this process to a conclusion means that we can focus on working in partnership with all clubs to continue to build a competitive and successful league.”

What was Saracens’ initial reaction?

In a statement issued on the same day the sanctions were announced earlier this month, Sarries strongly refuted the charges brought by an independent disciplinary panel, with owner Wray saying it felt as though “the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet”.

The club apologised for “administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions” to Premiership Rugby Limited, but added it will “continue to vigorously defend this position especially as Premiership Rugby Limited precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations”.

Although, strictly speaking, they were unable to ‘appeal’ against the punishment, they did have until midnight on Monday to request a review into the findings.

They could only request such a review on one of three grounds; error of law, whether the decision was irrational or if they could prove procedural unfairness.

Saracens, who lost 30-10 at Racing 92 as they began their European Champions Cup defence on Sunday, brought in a major communications company to help manage the public fallout of the scandal last week.

What’s the background?

The charges related to a failure to disclose player payments in each of the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Saracens previously claimed they “readily comply” with salary cap rules and were able to spend above the £7m cap because of the high proportion – almost 60% – of home-grown players in their squad.

The Allianz Park outfit have several of the game’s biggest stars on their books, including seven of the 31-man squad that represented England at the World Cup in Japan, such as captain Owen Farrell and forwards Maro Itoje and Billy and Mako Vunipola.

One of the dominant forces in northern hemisphere club rugby, Sarries have won five Premiership titles and three European Champions Cups since 2010-11 – with two of those domestic titles coming in the timeframe that Premiership Rugby have been investigating.

Their three European successes have all come within the past four seasons.

Will the penalties impact Saracens?

In a statement on the club website, Wray said that a review or appeal against the panel’s ruling would be a “costly, time consuming and destabilising exercise”.

He said the business arrangements between himself and players had been “made in good faith” but should have been brought to the attention of the league’s salary cap manager before being entered into.

Wray added: “It is significant that following extensive investigations the independent panel stated that we have ‘not deliberately sought to circumvent the regulations’ albeit we recognise that some of our actions were considered to be ‘reckless’.

“As chairman, I must take full responsibility for the arrangements that led to this outcome. It is important to stress that our excellent coaching staff were not involved in these issues in any way.”

And, in an attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding the impact of the penalties on the club, Wray said:

  • Saracens would not be stripped of any of their trophies.
  • The club is in compliance with the salary cap for this season and will not have to sell players.
  • Sarries will not be prevented from signing players in the future.
  • A director will be appointed to the board to oversee a new governance regime, designed to prevent the club breaching salary cap rules again.

Premiership survival at the cost of Europe?

The points deduction means Saracens are currently 26 points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership and 32 away from a European Champions Cup qualifying place with 18 matches left to play.

Saracens director of rugby McCall has kept comments over the matter to a minimum – the only time has addressed the press as a whole over the penalties was after his side’s win at Gloucester earlier this month.

There he said he was planning as if the points deduction was going to be enforced, despite the sanction being suspended at the time pending any appeal.

“We’ve got to plan for the worst case scenario and that will affect our strategy around the Champions Cup,” said McCall, who picked a side that was without any England World Cup players apart from newly-signed hooker Jack Singleton for the defeat at Racing.

‘Saracens attempt to draw a line under affair’ – analysis

BBC Sport rugby union reporter James Burridge

Despite insisting they would appeal last week, that was never an option available to Saracens. They could only request a review or clarification of the findings and only if there had been some basic unfairness or procedural error.

This has been a nine-month investigation conducted by independent legal experts, who have already considered and dismissed Saracens’ defence.

The club maintain the decision is unjust. By accepting the fine and the points deduction Saracens will attempt to draw a line under the whole affair. The details of the investigation aren’t likely to emerge either. But the questions won’t go away.