League title holders and reigning European champions Saracens will play in the second-tier of English rugby next season following their relegation from the Gallagher Premiership for salary cap breaches.
Here, the PA news agency looks at what is next for the crisis-engulfed club, a timeline of their downfall and what lies ahead.
Saracens, winners of five Premiership titles and three European Cup finals, will formally drop out of English rugby’s top flight as their latest salary cap punishment coming just two months after they were docked 35 league points and fined £5.36million for breaches in the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns.
The earliest they will be back competing in English rugby’s top flight is September 2021, while Europe’s blue riband club competition – the Heineken Champions Cup – will not see them again until at least late 2022.
Even if Saracens retain their European title this term, Championship status does not allow entry to it, and when they return to the Premiership, their first season back will see them contest the support-act European Challenge Cup.
It is going to be a strange experience for them, to put it mildly. Used to running out at such English rugby citadels as Welford Road in Leicester, Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground and Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton, they will sample somewhat more modest surroundings next term.
A trip to the small Bedfordshire market town of Ampthill awaits, where it is a walk through the woods to their pitch at Dillingham Park, while Hartpury Rugby Club’s ground will remind Saracens of life in the Premiership, as it sits adjacent to Gloucester’s training base.
Saracens provided nine members of England’s squad that finished the recent World Cup in Japan, including players like England captain Owen Farrell, lock Maro Itoje and number eight Billy Vunipola. Playing Championship rugby is hardly ideal from England’s perspective, while there is also the huge matter of a British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021.
There looks likely to be more certainty about this aspect of Saracens’ staff than the playing side. Rugby director Mark McCall would be highly sought-after, considering his success at Saracens, if he became available, but McCall is also fiercely loyal.
He spoke about a “new era” and a “new journey” at Saracens, while his team of trusty lieutenants led by Alex Sanderson, Kevin Sorrell and Ian Peel are also set to be involved for the long haul. At this stage, none of the coaches know what squad they will be working with next season, but Premiership planning will soon be on their agenda, with immediate promotion seemingly inevitable.
Externally, there is a widespread feeling of animosity towards them from inside and outside the sport, and Saracens know they have no choice other than to take the hits.
Short-term pain will be considerable, with player departures set to dominate headlines between now and the end of this season. Redevelopment work on their Allianz Park stadium will continue, though. Saracens’ salary cap behaviour has left a stain on the game, but time is a healer and at some point they will undoubtedly be back, reclaiming a seat at English and European rugby’s top table.
SARACENS: A TIMELINE
March 3, 2019
Saracens say they have no case to answer after Premiership Rugby Ltd (PRL) announced it is examining whether the champions might be in breach of the salary cap.
Saracens owner Nigel Wray says the club are “open and transparent” in terms of the salary cap rules, but adds “investment is not salary” amid revelations he had con-invested into companies with leading players.
PRL reveal Saracens had not shared with it the details of all the co-investment arrangements, but confirmed the required information had been received. Saracens protest their innocence.
Saracens docked 35 points and fined £5.36million by a heavyweight independent panel after being found to have breached salary cap regulations for the three previous seasons, leaving them at the foot of the Premiership on minus 26 points. Chairman Nigel Wray says the club is “devastated” by the “heavy handed” sanction and declares he will appeal.
Exeter owner Tony Rowe says Saracens should be relegated. Wray insists Saracens will not have to offload players and repeats his claim they have not exceeded the cap.
Saracens appoint PR firm FTI Consulting to handle the fallout from the scandal. FTI representatives block salary cap questions at club briefings.
Saracens drop plans to appeal against the fine and points deduction.
In an apparent admission of guilt, Wray says: “We have made mistakes and so, with humility, we must accept these penalties. As a club, we will now pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead.”
January 2, 2020
Wray steps down as chairman but pledges to continue financing the club. Ed Griffiths is reappointed chief executive and issues Saracens’ first public apology for the scandal.
Griffiths admits Saracens must reduce wage cuts or offload players to fall under the £7million cap for the current campaign.
Reports emerge that Saracens could be automatically relegated following a PRL meeting. Wray severs all ties with the club.
The club’s relegation is confirmed to the Championship is confirmed.
Saracens are dealt with another financial headache with news that Allianz are scrapping their long-standing sponsorship deal.
Newcastle Falcons’ promotion to the Gallagher Premiership is confirmed by the RFU after they are found to have the “best playing record formula”. Saracens relegation is effectively confirmed, despite the league not being officially over.
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