England captain Owen Farrell (bottom right) is one of the stars for Saracens. (Reuters/Action Images: Jason Cairnduff)
In one of the most spectacular downfalls in the history of club rugby, English and European champion Saracens will be relegated at the end of the season for breaching the salary-cap rules.
- Saracens have won four of the past five titles in the top-flight English league
- England captain Owen Farrell is one of the stars for the north London club
- According to a rival club chairman, the club was given the option to be relegated or open up their books to a forensic audit
The dramatic development leaves the future of some of the world’s most high-profile players, like England captain Owen Farrell and international teammates Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers, up in the air.
Premiership Rugby, which runs the English top tier, said Saturday that Saracens would finish the current season before being dropped down to the second-level Championship.
The club from north London has won four of the last five English titles and three of the last four European Cup titles, in one of the most dominant reigns in the history of European club rugby.
But those victories were followed by allegations of avoiding the English league’s salary-cap rules by making payments to companies owned by Saracens players.
It remains unclear if those titles will remain in place or be stripped, as was the case when the Melbourne Storm were found to have rorted the NRL’s salary cap for years, during which they won two premiership that were ultimately taken off them.
Saracens were deducted 35 points ahead of the start of the English league season and fined more than 5 million pounds ($9.5 million) for three seasons’ spending above the cap.
They could not prove they were compliant with the salary cap, having failed to release any of their high-earning players from the squad, and chose to accept relegation.
“I acknowledge the club has made errors in the past and we unreservedly apologise for those mistakes,” Saracens’ new chairman Neil Golding said in a statement released by Premiership Rugby.
“I and the rest of the board are committed to overseeing stringent new governance measures to ensure regulatory compliance going forward.”
Premiership Rugby also said it would commission a review of the salary-cap system to ensure what chief executive Darren Childs called “a level playing field for all clubs in the future”.
Exeter Chiefs were beaten by Saracens in the last two Premiership finals and the team’s chief executive, Tony Rowe, told the BBC people should not feel too sorry for the club.
“They had two choices: They could either open up their books so that Premiership Rugby could do a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on, or they could take relegation. So it was their choice not to open up their books,” Rowe said.
“We just want to move on. They have cheated. And I’m just a bit upset it has taken so long to do this. At the moment they are still picking their team each week largely from the squad they had last year, which is still in breach of the salary cap.”