Dean Richards, whose Newcastle team are nine points clear at the top of the English Championship, has warned relegated Saracens they will need a spine of experienced players to ensure an immediate return to the Gallagher Premiership.
Richards took Harlequins back up to the top flight of the English game in 2006 and is on course to do the same with Newcastle whose relegation last season saw them loan England flanker Mark Wilson to Sale for twelve months while other players opted to leave including Chris Harris (Gloucester), Simon Hammersley (Sale) and Niki Goneva (Harlequins).
However, Newcastle retained experienced Test players such as England No10 Toby Flood, Samoa prop Logovi’i Mulipola and Tonga scrum-half Sonatane Takulua to deal with the dangers lurking in the second tier of English rugby.
Saracens’ 45-strong squad will have individual interviews over the next two days with Mark McCall, the director of rugby, and acting CEO Edward Griffiths as the disgraced English and European champions work out what kind of squad will be possible for the promotion challenge next season.
Key players such as Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy and Mako Vunipola may need to be playing Premiership level rugby to keep their England places and stay on course for inclusion in the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021.
(Continue reading below…)
Mark McCall confirms Saracens’ squad will be broken up
Richards saw his men defeat struggling Yorkshire Carnegie 36-10 in a near-deserted Headingley Stadium on Sunday. He told RugbyPass: “There are a lot of old pros in the Championship and unless you have that understanding of how to play the game in this league then you could struggle, particularly with a load of kids. The old pros in the Championships know how to control a game and play the referee and are adaptable which means they can exploit any chink in your armour.
“You need strength across the board and if you don’t then you will struggle. If you had told me at the start of the season we would be replacing Saracens if we got promotion, I would have been totally surprised. We didn’t beat them in the Premiership and they had that strength come off the bench which caused us a few problems. The Premiership will evolve and move on with or without Saracens in 18 months – that’s life.”
'In many ways this is the end of that era that dates back to the start of 2009.'https://t.co/ixvp0uo1xz
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 19, 2020
Will Richards be looking to pick up any Saracens players who want to remain in the Premiership next season? “You have look at things closely and you cannot front-load things. If people come available at the right price then we will look at them. It has to be pretty cheap from that point of things.”
Richards was delighted to retain the majority of players he wanted to help Newcastle’s promotion bid and is using the experience he gained guiding Harlequins back into the Premiership, although the loss of some key squad members had to be expected. “Such is the culture we have in the squad we retained the majority of players we wanted and Mark Wilson will come back from his loan to Sale next season. It means we have the nucleus of the side that played in the Premiership and we understand how to play at that level.
“For the clubs (in the Championship) these games are their cup finals and they want to knock us off our perch. In an odd way playing in the Championship means a more competitive lineout battle and other areas with some of the teams a bit bigger and more robust. There are some good teams in this league and with a bit more vision and will to play they could cause a lot of Premiership teams problems.
“It has been an eye-opener for us and a lot of boys thought we would come straight back up and it wouldn’t be too difficult. However, there have been a lot of tough games – at Bedford and London Scottish in constant rain and there are a lot of levellers in the Championship.“
Saracens, as RugbyPass revealed on Saturday, recognise the “Galacticos” who currently make up their squad will be broken up due to the need to reduce the wage bill which saw them relegated after breaking the salary cap for four seasons.
After defeating Racing 92 to earn a quarter-final place as they defend their Heineken Champions Cup title, McCall admitted: “Every player has got a slightly different situation. We will 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? Someone like Ben Earl we’d like to keep at the club for the next five years, but he’s so close to getting on the England team.”
WATCH: Andy Goode and Brendan Venter didn’t hold back on this week’s The Rugby Pod as they discussed Saracens and the salary cap scandal
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.