English and European champions Saracens face the prospect of relegation as the salary cap scandal continues to blight the domestic season.
Here, the PA news agency examines the current state of play.
Why were Saracens initially punished?
— PA Sport (@pasport) November 5, 2019
For breaching the Premiership’s £7million salary cap for each of the last three seasons, resulting in a £5.36million fine and the docking of 35 points that leaves them in a relegation battle. There were calls for them to be stripped of titles but this was not within the range of sanctions available to Premiership Rugby (PRL), which manages the league.
But they are still in trouble?
Yes. While the past three years were dealt with, the punishment failed to address the current season, for which they added England internationals Elliot Daly and Jack Singleton to their squad. Initially, their spending for 2019-20 was the elephant in the room, but there is now a clamour for them to prove they are within the limit observed by their rivals.
Were they not attempting to do this?
It took the re-appointment of Edward Griffiths as chief executive on January 2 for Saracens to change tact after two months of inertia since being hit with the fine and points deduction. The double winners’ original lack of contrition and defiance despite being found guilty of ‘financial doping’ riled their rivals. Griffiths sounded a different note, however, apologising on behalf of the club for the first time and admitting that either wages would have to be reduced or players offloaded to comply with the salary cap for the current campaign.
Why, then, the threat of relegation?
I like Saracens as a club. I admire what they have created and I like Nigel Wray.But, this is the second time in 5 years they have been caught breaking the salary cap rules. If you say the sanctions are ludicrous, what action do you say should have been taken?
— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) November 5, 2019
This is where details become hazy. The ante appears to have been upped at a PRL meeting on Tuesday when Saracens were given a week to prove they are operating within the £7million cap or face being demoted to the Championship regardless of their final points total. The extent to which they are over the cap has not been made public, but it is believed to be a substantial amount and Griffiths has found making the necessary reductions harder than expected. Saracens and their players face uncertain futures as patience runs out at PRL.
Can Saracens recover?
Even if they were able to make sudden, drastic, cuts to their wage bill in time to satisfy Exeter owner Tony Rowe and the rest of the Premiership, their reputation is in tatters. Nigel Wray has stepped down as chairman and has now severed all formal ties with the club, his initial indignation at the verdict and punishment handed down by PRL in early November sounding even more misjudged now than it did then. Saracens’ domestic titles will forever be tainted and even if they are spared relegation, it is hard to see how their ‘brand’ will recover.