Premiership Rugby tried to argue that Saracens deliberately underpaid the star England forward Maro Itoje to get round the salary cap, the report into their breaches of the cap reveals.
The judgment from the panel chaired by Lord Dyson, which was published on Thursday after being leaked on Wednesday, stopped short of accusing Saracens’ of intentionally setting up joint ventures between the club’s owner, Nigel Wray, and leading players to breach the league’s salary cap over a three-season period.
It is understood from multiple sources that Itoje’s salary is lower than might be expected – he is not in the top 10 of Premiership earners in his position in the second row.
Itoje’s representatives were approached for comment on a day in which Premiership Rugby began an investigation into the leak amid fury over players names being made public.
The leaked report also revealed that Wray had put £1.3m towards companies owned by Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Chris Ashton, in a way that constituted a breach of the Premiership’s £7m salary cap rules.
The players’ names were redacted when Premiership Rugby published the report. However Damian Hapley, head of the Rugby Players’ Association, said the leak had still caused “untold damage to all parties concerned”.
“Having been given absolute assurances that all confidential player information would be redacted, we were stunned that the entire report was leaked,” he said. “We have taken up this breach of confidence with PRL as a matter of urgency and will continue to offer our support to all the players involved.”
In a statement Premier Rugby stressed that no blame was attached to players for the breaches committed by Saracens before also expressing its anger at the leak, calling it “unauthorised and reckless”.
The biggest revelation in the report is that the Premiership’s salary cap manager, Andrew Rogers, submitted evidence that Wray and two Saracens directors had paid Itoje £1.6m for a 30% share of his image rights.
However a separate valuation undertaken for Premier Rugby Limited said Saracens had overpaid by £800,000, an amount that was therefore considered to be salary.
The report quotes Rogers telling the disciplinary panel: “It seems to be that the investors either must or ought to have known they were overpaying and that they overpaid anyway because the player at the club was being underpaid.”
The panel declined to rule on the claim, saying “it is not necessary to do so” when judging whether Saracens had breached the salary cap, for which the club was docked 35 points and fined £5.3m.
In response to the report’s publication, Wray issued a lengthy statement in which he apologised for “the heartache I have caused due to my ill-considered approach to matters relating to salary cap compliance. My intention with co-investments was always to support players beyond their playing careers.”
The statement broke down in great detail Saracens’ view of the assessments made in the report with Wray adding: “I recognise the actions of the club were described by the panel as ‘reckless’ primarily due to my failure to consult with PRL’s salary cap manager prior to entering into any agreements and then disclosing the transactions to him. I take full responsibility for this. We should have been far better.”
A Premiership Rugby spokesman said other clubs came to them “pretty much every day” to ask questions about the salary cap and that Saracens had ample opportunity to do the same.
“Clubs came to me on a daily basis,” he added. “It’s all about disclosure.”