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The Premiership rivals who could throw unlikely spanner in Saracens' European campaign

(Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Saracens face a make-or-break Champions Cup clash on Sunday – accompanied by the grim prospect of Premiership relegation.

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Victory over Allianz Park visitors Racing 92 should be enough for Saracens to book a ninth successive European quarter-final appearance.

But that is merely a sideshow as they appear increasingly resigned to losing their Premiership status unless their wage bill is cut by up to £2million to comply with salary-cap regulations for the current season.

Saracens players – including a host of England internationals – and staff were reportedly told on Friday morning the club would accept an additional 35-point deduction for operating above this season’s £7million salary cap limit.

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Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million in November for breaching Premiership salary cap regulations in each of the last three campaigns.

They are currently 18 points adrift at the Premiership basement with 14 league games left, so another sizeable deduction would effectively consign them to the drop.

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In a statement issued to the PA news agency on Friday, Saracens’ interim chief executive Ed Griffiths said: “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.”

On the pitch, Saracens are at full strength for their appointment with Racing as they look to secure the runners-up spot in Pool Four behind the French club.

If Saracens win, it would take an unlikely sequence of results elsewhere to deny them a last-eight spot and halt hopes of a successful European title defence.

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They would be away from home in the quarter-finals, though, with Leinster or Exeter looming as possible opponents.

Gloucester could put a spanner in Saracens’ ambitions, but they need an away victory against four-time European champions Toulouse on Sunday to have any realistic hope of progressing.

Gloucester are without injured fly-half Danny CiprianiLloyd Evans deputises – but centre Mark Atkinson and flanker Jake Polledri return to action, and Scotland Six Nations squad member Alex Craig partners Franco Mostert in the second-row.

Toulouse have already qualified as Pool Five winners, collecting 22 points from a possible 25, which included beating Gloucester at Kingsholm in November.

“Our focus is solely on Toulouse,” Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann said.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. They were one of the favourites before the tournament started, and they haven’t disappointed.

“They’ve played well, they are unbeaten, they are a quality side. But we are not going there to make the numbers up. We are going there to see if we can get the win.

“The reality is that we can only control ourselves, our destiny and our performance. Our biggest focus this week has been getting our mental and physical preparation ready to give us a chance.”

Elsewhere on Sunday, Munster host Ospreys in Pool Four, while Pool Five is completed by Connacht visiting Montpellier.

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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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J
Jon 8 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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