Saracens are facing the very real possibility of a mandatory 35-point deduction this season as Premiership Rugby look to throw the book at the reigning champions over breaches of salary cap regulations.
An imminent punishment will be the result of a seven-month investigation into the club following revelations around alleged gratuities given to the top players via ‘co-investment’ opportunities with Saracens’ chairman Nigel Wray.
As the panel’s decision comes following round 22 of the 2018/19 season, the points penalty would take place this season. If a 35-point deduction had been taken off last season’s tally, Saracens would have dropped from their regular season second place position of 78 points down to a lowly 43 points, which would have seen them finish in tenth place, just two points ahead of Leicester Tigers in 11th.
A 35 point reduction would likely leave Saracens effectively needing a campaign in which they finish in the top four. Having lost the services of both Alex Goode and Liam Williams through injury, the season hasn’t gotten off the most auspicious of starts for the North Londoners.
RugbyPass understands that the 12 other Premiership Rugby Limited clubs (including Championship outfit Newcastle Falcons) are keen to stick the boot into Saracens as they feel the integrity of the competition is at stake. Saracens are furious at the impending punishment, as they maintain that they’ve not breached salary cap rules.
Within the salary cap regulations framework, there is an option of reducing up to 35 of the club’s total points at the end of the season. However, the regulations state that this framework is merely a ‘starting point’. According to their official document on the matter: “The disciplinary panel shall have the discretion to increase or decrease (to zero if appropriate).”
If it is found that the club have overspent by more than £650,000, they face – at the very least – the maximum reduction 35 points reduction. Points deduction (greater that 35pts) to the point of relegation is the most severe reprimand open to the governing body – although it is unlikely in this case.
On top of the points deduction, Saracens’ senior salary cap is also set to be punitively reduced, which will inevitably hamper the club’s efforts to hold onto and to lure new talent to Allianz Park. They also face a lump-sum fine.
The body launched an official investigation into Saracens in March, but Sportsmail reported in September that the Premiership’s salary cap manager, Andrew Rogers, had passed on the case to an independent body. That independent body is set to reveal the extent of the punishment this month.
The trouble kicked off for Saracens earlier this year following revelations in the Mail around ‘co-investments’ between the club’s top players and millionaire chairman Wray.
Wray was listed with Companies House as a director alongside players such as Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth and the Vunipola brothers in companies Faz Investments Ltd, Wiggy9 Investments Limited and VunProp Ltd.
The Premiership salary cap is currently set at £7million, although that can be overspent legally through the contracting of two marquee players, the creation of credits from senior England internationals and through medical joker signings.
In April, the Premiership effectively alleged that Saracens had been less than forthcoming with information around their arrangement with players.
“Saracens had not at the time of recent media speculation shared with the Premiership Rugby salary cap manager details of all the co-investment arrangements between connected parties and players,” the Premiership said in a statement.
In response, Saracens issued the following statement defending the co-investments and saying an oversight had led to not all of the investments being shared with Premiership Rugby.
“Unprompted, we invited Premiership Rugby’s salary cap manager into the club to openly discuss matters related to player salaries.
“Whilst co-investments are not part of the salary regulations, we disclosed these transactions in good faith and indeed divulged more information than was necessary. Separately, following a minor internal oversight, Premiership Rugby was provided with details relating to some of these agreements.
“We remain confident that we comply with the salary regulations and will continue to support the entrepreneurial spirit and future of our players.”
A spokesperson for Saracens said they would not be making any statements ahead of the determination.
RugbyPass requested a comment from Premiership Rugby but none was forthcoming before this article was published.
Saracens’ finance chief Bernard van Zyl resigned last month from the club, the second key figure to exit if you include the departure of Saracens’ director property tycoon Nicholas Leslau. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on their parts.
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