Normally, articles of this nature tend to be impartial, so as to allow all sides of the story to be accurately presented in such a way to allow the reader to establish their own opinion. However, in this circumstance, it’s safe to say that there isn’t many clubs in Europe, let alone England, mourning the relegation of European champions cup and English Premiership champions Saracens to the championship.
Good riddance I say.
For those not in the know, it was announced in early November of last year that Saracens, with a squad full of some of the best known rugby union players in the game such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, were to be fined £5m and docked 35 points, putting them in serious contention of relegation. This was all due to their breach of salary cap regulations over the previous 3 seasons. The cap was established in 1999 by Premiership Rugby. These regulations were established specifically to ensure there was a level playing field in the English game, with the aim of preventing any one team from being totally dominant in the league and in Europe solely because of financial clout, essentially, going in the opposite direction to the French Top 14, who garnered a reputation for entincing big players to play in France with massive wages (it must be said, however, that the Top 14 now have a salary cap of their own).
Since this initial sanction, rumors had been circulating regarding Saracens ability to adhere to the salary cap this season, with English Club bosses meeting earlier last week to discuss if Saracens were in any position to meet the cap requirements this season. Ultimately, it was found not be possible to either lower player wages significantly enough or to offload enough players in time.Therefore, it was announced on Saturday the 18th of January 2020, that Saracens will be relegated from the English premiership at the end of the season.
So, why is this such a big deal? The figures being tossed around, in a wider sporting perspective, aren’t that gargantuan. A £5m fine to the likes of Manchester City, for example, would merely be a small drop in an oil-filled ocean. However, in the wider world of rugby union, this is a very significant sum. For example, an article published by The Rugby Paper in April of last year detailing Premiership clubs finances near the end of the 2018/19 season showed that clubs such as Sale Sharks and London Irish had a turnover of £9.3m and £9.5m respectively, whilst Saracens had a turnover of £17.9m (Wasps had the highest turnover at £32.8m), so this is a fairly handsome fine. But, there’s more to it than money. Saracens have had, for want of a better word, a loaded squad for some years now, boasting some of the best players in the world game, let alone the English game and this was due, largely, to their abuse of the salary cap, the very thing put in place to create a level playing field and to prevent teams from taking all the top talent for themselves. Essentially, abuse of the cap is cheating (in my opinion at least). It gives you a foothold that not all teams can reach, and as a result, means one team will dominate, like Saracens have done.
So what now? Should the 5 premiership titles and 3 European cups won since their 2009 overhaul be rescinded? What will happen to the players? (Note, Mark McCall, Saracens director of rugby, has since stated the team is likely to be broken up for their Championship spell). There are plenty of questions to be answered regarding what is, at least in the rugby world, new territory. Never before has the sport seen circumstances such as these (at least, not in England), and in these murky waters we are currently wading, not many are sure what is to come next. One thing can be said, the salary cap will never be taken for granted by a Premiership team again, and many more teams will be less inclined to cheat or ‘bend the rules’ as quickly in the future.