Rugby Australia have declared they “are going to go heavy” in pursuing former Wallabies lock Will Skelton in the wake of the Saracens salary cap scandal.
The north London club have confirmed they will be looking to offload players as a result of three-year salary cap breach which has earned the reigning English and European champions automatic relegation into next season’s Championship.
Saracens had already received a 35-point reduction in the Premiership and a £5.36 million fine for exceeding the £7 million salary cap over the past three seasons.
Continue reading below…
After failing to comply with salary cap regulations, Saracens opted for demotion after being given the choice of a season in the Championship or opening up their books for a forensic audit and handing back their Premiership trophies for two of the last three campaigns.
While their domestic title ambitions are all but nullified, a tilt at successive Champions Cup crowns is still on the cards following Saracens’ 27-24 defeat of Racing 92 last weekend.
However, their bid for consecutive European titles may have to be done without a swagger of key players as many of the club’s star men may not be at Allianz Park beyond May.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 20, 2020
“Of course there are going to be changes,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said on Sunday.
“There’s no doubt the bunch of players we’ve got in our squad now aren’t going to be the same bunch of players we have in the Championship next year. That’s for sure.
“In many ways this is the end of that era that dates back to the start of 2009. We have got some time to plan for a new era, a new journey, and that is the optimistic way of looking at it.”
Star Welsh fullback Liam Williams has already confirmed he will rejoin PRO14 side Scarlets at the end of the current campaign, while it’s understood that British and Irish Lions lock George Kruis will leave for Japan in the coming months to ease Saracens’ financial burden.
After having played 18 tests for the Wallabies between 2014 and 2016, Skelton could join the duo in the departures lounge given that he is not qualified to play for England.
Additionally, Fox Sports reports that the 27-year-old is earning close to £400,000 per year at Saracens, making him a leading candidate to be shown the door by the end of the season.
Skelton’s exit from Saracens could open up the door for Rugby Australia to swoop in and land the 2.03m, 125kg behemoth following an unsuccessful attempt to do so leading into last year’s World Cup.
Speaking to The Australian, RA director of rugby Scott Johnson said the governing body were eager to bring Skelton home.
“I can’t see them keeping anywhere near that team together and because he [Skelton] is not English, he will be one of the first under the spotlight,” Johnson said.
“We have spoken to his agent, and we are going to go heavy this week.”
However, Johnson conceded that the decision will ultimately be Skelton’s as he weighs up financial security in Europe or Japan against international ambitions in Australia.
“We are in a realistic chance at some stage to bring him back, if he wants to come back,” Johnson told The Australian.
“He’s going to make a decision on what he is doing this for. Is it money, or is it career? So he has to make that clear to us.
“For us, we won’t compete for the money. We’ll make a good offer. But I only want guys in the country who want to make a difference. He has apparently been saying the right things but, to be fair, he was always just trying to honour his contract.”
A move back to Australia would likely see Skelton reunited with the Waratahs after he helped guide them to their sole Super Rugby title in 2014 during his five-season stint at the franchise.
The Rebels and Brumbies could also be in the running for Skelton’s services, though, as both clubs lack international star power in their second row following the exits of the likes of Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter over the off-season.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 20, 2020
Although players can be selected for England from the Championship, there is precedent for it, which could lead to significant ramifications for both Eddie Jones and British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
Six Saracens players were selected in England’s World Cup final defeat to the Springboks two months ago, and the club would have been significantly represented in the Lions’ tour of South Africa next year had they remained afloat in the Premiership.
Consequently, Jones may choose to activate England’s exceptional circumstances rule to allow them to select key players, such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, should they commit themselves to offshore clubs beyond this season.
A total of seven players – Farrell, Itoje, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly, Kruis and Ben Earl – were named in Jones’ 34-man Six Nations squad on Monday.
Urgent talks with both Jones and Gatland are being sought by Saracens with regard to international player selection for both England and the Lions.
“Every player has got a slightly different situation,” McCall said.
“We’ll also have to talk to Eddie Jones and see what he thinks, in terms of his established players from Saracens and the younger ones. Is he prepared for people to be playing in the Championship?”
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now