Saracens face another fine the day after salary-cap punishment

Saracens face a £50,000 fine after failing to turn up for the launch of the European Champions Cup in Cardiff where, as holders, they would have had prime billing. The day after they were docked 35 points and fined £5m for breaching the Premiership’s salary-cap regulations, sympathy was in short supply, with the former England captain Chris Robshaw saying the club had stained the sport’s image.

Saracens were due to send their captain, Brad Barritt, to the launch along with Mark McCall, the director of rugby, but they told the organisers the night before the event that they would not be turning up. They offered the pair for interview at the club’s training ground but felt their presence in Cardiff would turn the launch of European club rugby’s premier tournament into a sideshow. It is understood they will be deregistering players for Europe as they look to cut their squad to ensure they do not go over the cap this season.

“I can understand why they did not pitch up,” said Simon Halliday, chairman of European Professional Club Rugby. “I know that the club care very deeply about Europe and the non‑attendance was based on a decision that had been made the day before that clearly had a big impact on them. The launch is important to us and we will have to consider whether to take their non-attendance further.”

Six Premiership clubs were at the Principality Stadium and the prevalent feeling was that Saracens needed to be made an example of after being found to have broken the rules over a period of three years.

“They have been the dominant side in Europe in that period and we now know why,” said Robshaw, who is leading Harlequins this season. “It is cheating. As a sport, we tend to think our grass is greener than football’s or athletics’, but now we are as muddy as the rest of them.

“We want a level playing field. It is hard to take when someone is successful through going beyond that. It is not the fault of the players but the people in charge of the club. It is really tough on the players and maybe the rules governing youngsters a club develops and helps turn into England internationals needs looking at, but the bottom line is that you cannot cheat and I do not see that as an excuse. Exeter have brought several players through, as have Harlequins and Leicester. You do it within the rules of the game.”

The Sale director of rugby, Steve Diamond, who coached Saracens in the 2000s, said his former employers needed to redeem themselves in the eyes of the rest of the Premiership and suggested a start would be to take down the words integrity and honesty that adorn their Allianz Park ground.

“I do not think they had to do it, such is the conveyor belt they have created. They could have operated under cap. I am upset and disappointed at their actions more than critical. There was an amnesty, allegedly, four years ago after clubs had been finding clever ways around the cap. They all agreed to stick to it, not least to arrest player wage inflation.

“Due processes were put in place and it is naive to think you can now get away with breaking the cap. If a player is presented with a watch at an end-of-season awards ceremony, it is included in it. If you commit a robbery in the UK, you maybe go to prison for six months. Do it again and a third time and a judge says you are an habitual offender who will keep doing it unless a stiff punishment is handed out.

“It is not for me to say whether it is fair, but you have to stop them doing it. They have appealed, but if that goes against them they have to take the medicine and get on with it. They have done a lot of good things and flown the flag for English rugby, but for years I operated on half their budget and still got Sale into Europe regularly. The Premiership as a whole loses £40m a year which is why the cap is needed.”

Saracens said they breached the cap in an attempt to keep players in a sport where a number retire early through injury and have nothing to fall back on. Their success in developing youngsters who went on to become key players for England, such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, had an impact when their wages exploded.

“It is a problem we could face in three years, but you have to stick to the rules,” said the Northampton director of rugby, Chris Boyd. “If you keep one player, you have to release another. An internal explosion of wages means you have to make a choice.

“The biggest burden on a club is the wage bill and the cap is there to prevent an owner from going out and buying a team. There may be a better way of incentivising clubs to produce more England qualified players but each model is different and if you are in a catchment area that has a poor pool of kids, you have to be a recruitment club.”

Exeter lost three Premiership finals against Saracens when they were breaching the rules. Their head coach, Rob Baxter, said that while he did not feel cheated he did feel the victories were tainted.

There is no punishment for Saracens in Europe because the cap regulations do not apply in the tournament and the Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton, whose side were beaten in the final last season, said: “I do not think it tarnishes what they have achieved in the Champions Cup. We beat French clubs on bigger budgets than Saracens. For me they are European champions and deservedly so.”