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Robshaw: Rugby has lost high ground over football thanks to Saracens

As the kid who struggled to learn growing up until a dyslexia diagnosis and as the skipper of the 2015 England team widely ridiculed for failure at their own World Cup, Chris Robshaw knows all about difficult times. 

He learned to cope, learn to roll with the punches and came out the other side. Adversity has been part of life, part of sport, and it’s why he was at a loss on Wednesday as to why Saracens didn’t bother attending the new-season Champions Cup launch in Cardiff.

There had been a swirl of negative publicity surrounding the Londoners in the wake of the revelation that they had repeatedly breached the Premiership’s salary cap and would be fined in excess of £5million and deducted 35 points if their appeal against the sanctions isn’t successful. 

But that shouldn’t excuse them not turning up at a launch event where they are the defending champions. “I do think they should be here and fronting up,” he told RugbyPass. 

“Then again, you are asking a player to do it, you are asking a coach to do it and are they the ones who are making those (salary cap) decisions? To put them out into this… it is going to be a tough time for them, but it is one they have brought on to themselves and they are going to have to deal with it for some time I’d imagine.”

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Robshaw doesn’t hold his tongue in condemning Saracens’ accounting shenanigans, even though Harlequins were well off the pace of their London rivals in the three seasons they were found to be in breach of the cap. Quins were 25 points and five wins behind Nigel Wray’s club in 2016/17, 41 points and nine wins behind in 17/18 and 22 points and six wins behind last term. 

In the latter two of those seasons, Saracens went on to lift the trophy via the play-offs and Robshaw has no hesitation suggesting an asterisk should be placed alongside the champions’ name in the roll of honour. “Definitely,” he said. 

“That is the big thing at the moment, that is the big thing. There is talk should they lose their titles, is the points deduction enough, is the fine good enough? All those type of things are going to continue to weighed up and spoken about for some time, but it definitely it has got to be looked it. 

“To see they have cheated and it has come out that they were above the salary cap and what they won in that time isn’t fair on the rest of the competition. 

“It’s a huge low, a huge low, one of the biggest in the sport. For us, we are a sport that pride ourselves. Often we look down our nose at other sports. We always compare us to football and we look at our ethics when they cheat and stuff, but the grass is no longer greener – we [rugby] are as bad as everyone else. 

“We [rugby] have cheated and this is big. I don’t think it is something that can be brushed away quite easily. It’s going to take some time to get through and it makes the league no longer competitive. 

“When you look back and say, when you look at a team who have been dominating for years and extremely dominant and they have been caught cheating, maybe that is the answer. 

“Maybe that is why you can see they have been so successful when everyone else has been struggling, everyone else has been competing to be competitive to try and keep in their salary caps, to get the best quality as possible to try and be competitive.”

Robshaw insisted the salary cap is of utmost importance to the Premiership’s viability and its rules must be adhered to. “It makes our sport as competitive as possible. We don’t have the backing that football has in terms of TV money, fan engagement, in terms of burns of seats so to speak. 

“For our league to be competitive we need to have a salary… it is supposed to make our game sustainable and also competitive so that we aren’t drumming up these big losses for owners, that we can grow the sport organically as well and have a competitive league.”

It won’t be until January 26 when Harlequins next cross swords on the pitch with Saracens. Will the salary cap bring an added edge.

“No, I don’t think it will. It’s a London derby, it’s always tough. I don’t think it will be any spicier now that have been caught cheating, so to speak. I don’t think that will change. It will be probably interesting to see how they respond. I know they are not here today and how they respond to it will be interesting.”

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Robshaw: Rugby has lost high ground over football thanks to Saracens