If you can, put aside for a moment your feelings on Saracens’ salary cap infringements, their behaviour during and after the review process and the magnitude to which you feel it has distorted English rugby in recent years.

ADVERTISEMENT

Maybe you’re a fan of a rival Gallagher Premiership club and are justifiably seething at what they’ve done, or maybe you’re more of an England fan, who isn’t overly bothered by their actions due to their contributions to the national team. Whatever your allegiances, set them aside for the next 10 minutes.

If you can look at the situation objectively, we are about to enter one of the most fascinating periods of professional rugby in England, with a genuinely colossal rebuild of a team required, the likes of which we have not seen before. That process is going to be compelling to watch.

Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall has already spoken of his hope of being able to retain a number of his homegrown England stars by loaning them out next season. Retaining that core will be key, although with nine of the current 12 Premiership clubs at or very close to the salary cap, finding those loans will be easier said than done.

RugbyPass understands that there have been talks with Premiership Rugby Limited to allow for a one-season salary cap dispensation, so that current Premiership teams may be able to pick these players up whilst, in theory, Saracens spend just the one season in English rugby’s second tier. Buckle up for some raised eyebrows and outrage from the Saracens faithful if that happens.

Continue reading below…

Watch: Mark McCall confirms the Saracens squad will have to be broken up

ADVERTISEMENT
Video Spacer

Let’s say they are able to find temporary homes for the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers, whether that’s in the Premiership, France or even an educational foray into Super Rugby. It’s a British and Irish Lions year that is fast approaching and those players, as loyal as they are to their club, will not want to miss out on that opportunity. Playing in the Greene King IPA Championship wouldn’t likely preclude that, but in a tough selection call for Warren Gatland, don’t be surprised if he opts for the player tested at a higher level during the season.

That homegrown core keeps on coming, too, with the likes of Jamie George, Alex Goode and George Kruis also among the names the club would surely love to keep. That said, McCall has already said that this is the end of an era that began in 2009 and it may well be that Saracens now turn their eye towards beginning a new dynasty and proving that they can do it legally.

ADVERTISEMENT

Looking to that potential future, the quartet of Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Rotimi Segun and Manu Vunipola become even more important than they already are, not to mention Joel Kpoku, should the club now be able to lure him back from a move to Northampton Saints that RugbyPass understands has already been agreed.

This is the moment that separates the perennially good teams from the mediocre ones in the highly successful salary cap leagues of the NFL and NBA. It’s the evaluation process of assessing how vital a player is to the cause. Are they essential? Or are they just a good player? How do they project as a player in two or three years’ time? You can’t keep everyone in a salary capped competition, you need to make these calls and successfully doing so is what makes a team, a coach or a general manager great. It’s arguably what Saracens have not had to do as part of their incredibly successful decade.

Even if they can retain their largely homegrown core, many of them will likely head out on loan next season, which only adds to the interest there will be in watching how this rebuild takes shape. Yes, it was intriguing when Harlequins and Northampton went down and they put in place new cores that would see them go on to lift Premiership titles, although their fortunes had been diminishing prior to that. There was, in a brutal but forensic way, plenty of deadwood to be cleared out.

At Saracens, there isn’t a whole lot of deadwood. These decisions will not be easy ones.

It’s a fascinating challenge for Head of Recruitment Nick Kennedy, too, who will work in tandem with McCall to put in place a squad that can earn again the trust and admiration of rugby’s fans, as well as attempting to buff out the tarnishing that now exists on many of Saracens’ recent triumphs.

Initially, the squad will not have to be as big as it currently is. There’s no European competition to compete in beyond the summer, so that’s a money saver right from the word go, and there will be opportunities for the club’s younger players to impress. The Championship will challenge Saracens in a way that’s very different to what they are used to but, barring an exodus of unimaginable proportions, they will enter the tournament with comfortably the best squad of the 12 competing teams.

It remains to be seen how much recruitment the club will need to do, most of which will hinge upon who stays and who goes at the end of the season, but they could well back the likes of Andy Christie, Elliott Obatoyinbo, Ralph Adams-Hale, Kapeli Pifeleti and Sean Reffell to take on more prominent roles in the club’s senior squad. Their paths have included the unenviable challenges of trying to get passed players such as Liam Williams, Schalk Burger and Mako Vunipola in recent years, so the clearer air is going to be something that they likely relish.

Does Richard Wigglesworth stay on for another year? His experience would be vital at half-back and if Ben Spencer moves on, temporarily or permanently, in order to further his international ambitions, there would be chasm at the position for Saracens.

Can Juan Figallo and Vincent Koch be retained? Sean Maitland is rumoured to be off, Nick Tompkins may have Wales selection considerations to factor in and Jack Singleton is another with international opportunities ahead of him. If there is one place you would want to be on a fly on the wall at over the next week, it would be Saracens’ St Albans training ground.

McCall has already stated that it’s not going to be the club making decisions about players, it will be the club making decisions with the players. Those conversations will shape how Saracens go about this rebuild.

And what about the coaches? The club, after all, has become a production line off the pitch, just as much as it has on it. Between Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard, Saracens have contributed enormously to the coaching IQ around Eddie Jones during his tenure with England.

Does Alex Sanderson want to stay and build a new era of potential success or does he have aspirations on a director of rugby role elsewhere? Ian Peel, Joe Shaw, Kevin Sorrell, Dan Vickers and Phil Morrow are all excellent at what they do and though an exodus is not expected, they would all have a flood of job offers should they decide to move on. If they do, does that create a route to prominent senior coaching positions for transition coach Adam Powell or academy coaches Kelly Brown and James Tirrell?

If you can shelve the animosity, this may be the most interesting thing to happen in English rugby for years and years. As intriguing as the relegation battles have become in the Premiership, the battle at the top has been boringly predictable. Saracens’ indiscretions may have left a black mark on the competition in terms of PR, but the journey they are about to embark on is going to be an incredibly fun one to watch as a neutral.

A potential flood of international-calibre talent into the recruitment pool then adds intriguing levels to the recruitment and squad-building plans of other clubs. Where is the best one season fit for Itoje? Will a struggling Premiership side push the boat out and go hard for a couple of Saracens’ veteran squad players? Who is the guy that can be lured away from north London to come in and set a cultural tone at a Bath or a Wasps?

If you watch rugby purely for the 80 minutes between the white lines, be outraged at what Saracens have done, whilst remaining respectful to the players and staff whose livelihoods have been affected moving forward.

But, if you watch rugby for those 80 minutes and all the machinations and complexity that goes on over the course of a week or a month or a season to elicit those performances, be outraged, but also be very excited about what is still to come.

Watch: Inside the Barbarians

Video Spacer

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now