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'The most sellable club': The Rugby Pod on the Saracens takeover

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Ex-Saracens Premiership and European Cup winner Jim Hamilton has described the club’s £32million weekend takeover by a consortium that includes World Cup-winning skipper Francois Pienaar as a positive development for rugby in England. The London club remain hugely unpopular following their repeated breaches of the salary cap which led to their automatic relegation from the top flight.   

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But they are now back in the Premiership having won promotion last June from the Championship and on the morning of their second fixture in the 2021/22 campaign at Leicester, it emerged that a new consortium had taken a controlling interest in the club from Nigel Wray, its long-time figurehead who has retained a minority shareholding.  

Former Scotland lock Hamilton spent three years at the club before retiring from playing in 2017 and he told the latest edition of The Rugby Pod, the show he co-hosts with Andy Goode, that this takeover at Saracens wasn’t at all controversial and was a good bit of business by the new investors who spotted a gap in the market due to the potential for growth that exists at the Londoners.  

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“It’s not controversial, in my opinion,” said Hamilton. “I’ve seen a few things. The reason why I say that line and sound coy is the game at the weekend, Saracens versus Leicester. At the end, the camera pans up and Nigel Wray is there. All the talk is around Nigel Wray now just being a fan of Saracens but that camera made it as if nothing had changed, you get what I mean? 

“But yeah, Saracens now sold, £32million. The interesting thing for me is the value of the club and the fact there are people out there still interested in investing in rugby. Saracens are a really interesting club when you look at them from the outside. They don’t have a huge fanbase. They are a very successful club as we know. They have got tarred history as we know with the Saracens scandal but for me, if there was any club that was sellable and had room for growth commercially it’s Saracens. 

“A North London club, they have got their own stadium which has got a huge opportunity for growth. Haven’t got their own training ground yet. You have got some of the best players in the league and I genuinely think when you look at the media narrative and the interest in Saracens, there is a pantomime villain part in it but everyone can agree that European rugby looks significantly better with a Saracens team in it.”

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There had been financial concerns over how Wray and co might bounce back following the club’s automatic relegation, but the future of Saracens now seems secure following the takeover by a consortium comprising Dominic Silvester, CEO of Enstar Group, a global insurance group; Neil Golding, the club’s chairman and a partner at Freshfields; Paul O’Shea, a director at Enstar; Pienaar, a World Cup-winning captain and former Saracens player; Nick Leslau, chairman and CEO of Prestbury Investment Holdings; and Marco V Masotti, a partner at Paul Weiss and an owner of South Africa’s Sharks rugby team.

Pod show co-host Goode, who was at Saracens on loan in 2003/04, reckoned: “There is a lot of Saracens DNA within the new consortium that has taken it over. First and foremost around Nigel Wray, people think he sold the club and that is it and he is just a fan but he is not because he has still got in his words a significant minority in terms of the shareholding. Lucy Wray [his daughter] is still going to be CEO, so he has got a significant minority albeit a passive one, they were the words he used. He has put his heart and soul into the club so you can only tip the slipper to him.

“For me, it is great to see them back. The Premiership is a better league with them in it. People want to watch Saracens play for all the success they have had. Same with Leicester when they had all the success they had. Other teams wanted to watch Leicester play because they wanted to see them beaten. No one wants to see one team win everything all the time because it becomes boring.”

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