With the conclusion of the Gallagher Premiership up in the air amid a 5-week coronavirus suspension, questions are now being asked of the fate of Saracens.
A complete cancellation of the season is a very real possibility and maybe even a likely outcome, leaving the question of who, if anyone, wins the Premiership and RFU Championship; where they lie in their respective tables; and the implications therein for European qualification.
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Up until last week, the fate of the reigning Premiership Champions was sealed. Having breached the salary cap in at least three seasons, a £5.4 million fine and a total of 105 points deduction had – it seemed – consigned them to the Championship.
Tellingly, while a 105 point docking was to all effects an automatic relegation for Saracens, on a technical level it amounted to a points reduction. For example, if they won all 22 regular season match with a points bonus were left with a total of 110 points and their 105 point deduction was subtracted from that, they’d be left with 5 points.
Last season, as a loose test case, 5 points would have still seen Saracens relegated as Newcastle Falcons managed just 31 points for the season. In academic terms at least, 5 points could be enough to see a side stay up, should another side amass less than 5 points across the same season.
Currently Sarries have won nine out of 13 games and earned six bonus points for a total of 42, which after you deduct 105 points leave them on minus 63. Even if Sarries won all their remaining 9 games with a bonus point in each, they still be left with minus 17, considerably (and obviously) behind the 20 points Leicester Tigers have scraped together.
So, barring the unrealistic prospect of a points deduction for a rival Premiership club, Saracens would be relegated.
Could a legal argument be made, in theory at least, that Saracens couldn’t be relegated as the season hadn’t been concluded? Unlikely. In any event, it seems highly unlikely that Saracens would attempt to make such an argument. The lack of an appeal of the second mid-season 70 point deduction proved that the reigning champs were taking their medicine and have no intention of fighting the drop – on that front at least.
Saracens might tackle their relegation from a very different angle.
The massive financial toll that suspending the season has caused could be enough to bankrupt a number of Premiership clubs. Other than Exeter Chiefs, every club in the Premiership is already running at a loss, and the current circumstances are pushing already underpressure sides further into the red.
Should any club potentially go to the wall, RugbyPass understands that the thinking among some within Saracens’ organisation is that they will likely step into the breach and that their inclusion in next season’s Premiership could even be unavoidable.
There’s also the matter of who gets promoted to the Premiership. For Saracens to be relegated, there needs to be a Championship side to replace them, and that’s a little less clear cut.
Newcastle Falcons are the obvious and clear candidates. They haven’t dropped a game all season and are just four dropped bonus points off a perfect season to date.
Like the Premiership, the Championship is suspended until at least April 14th. But were England’s second-tier competition to be wrapped early, it’s not much of a stretch to think Ealing Trailfinders and Cornish Pirates might have something to say about Newcastle being promoted without the season running its course.
Sitting, second and third respectively, both teams are still within touching distance of the Championship leaders.
If Newcastle were to be promoted de facto, then a legal challenge is not out of the question.
The Falcons released a statement this weekend, and one line, in particular, was unmistakably nervous. “The Falcons are currently 18 points clear at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship table having won all 15 of their league games this season, the most recent of those being last Friday’s 41-0 victory over Bedford Blues.”
The point was clear – Falcons should be promoted, as things stand.
Comments yesterday by Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon suggest that there is an appetite across the league that the rest of this Premiership season concluded in this season.
“We would love to find a way to bring this season to an appropriate conclusion, and I think that is replicated at the league and certainly other clubs we have spoken to,” Darbon said, suggesting a season dragged out over the summer and thus pushing back the next campaign is not a desired outcome, even if possible. “Our strong preference is to get things finished this year and move on to the next one (season) without damaging that one too.”
Saracens being saved from relegation might seem far fetched, for sure; yet as Newcastle Falcons Director of Rugby Dean Richard says: “This is uncharted territory for all of us.”
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