Saracens are undoubtedly one of the best rugby teams in Europe, with three Champions Cup titles in the last four seasons. They possess some of the world’s best players in their respective positions, with the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoge and Owen Farrell. Along with their European success, they also have won four Premiership titles in the last five years. However, the last few weeks that have transpired have left the English powerhouse with some major difficulties facing them.
They have recently decided to refrain from appealing their thirty-five-point reduction in the Premiership and the £5.36 million fine that came with it, and reluctantly accept their punishment. As cruel as it may be, many would feel that this punishment is warranted. At the end of the day, knowingly breaking the rules that are clearly laid out is cheating, and doing so in a manner that is attempting to deceive the public makes their actions even worse. Their efforts of hiding the payments to players offers some form of humour in the matter too, with payments going through Faz Investments Ltd along with VunProp Ltd. One would be naïve to suggest that these salary caps didn’t play a role in their success over the past few years, and so the £5.36 million fine along with the thirty-five-point reduction is necessary to punish them and show how unacceptable it is in the sport.
The last few weeks have now left Sarries with a mountain to climb. At the time of writing, they sit in last place in the Premiership on a whopping -22 points. Director of rugby, Mark McCall has said that they will have to do what is necessary to ensure that the side don’t get relegated, suggesting that Europe is now low on the pecking order of importance to them. Even prior to what has happened, they had a very difficult pool facing them in the Champions Cup in Racing 92, Munster and the Ospreys. They have already been well beaten by Racing, in a game where they clearly missed their experienced internationals like Farrell, Itoge, Kruis and the Vunipola brothers. Their absences may have been because of fatigue from the World Cup, or it may have been that McCall was resting them for the bigger games that were to come in the Premiership.
If dealt with well, Saracens could see themselves deal with the problem this season, taking the hit in Europe and staying up in the Premiership. However, it is clearly not going to be that easy. A one-year absence from being a force in Europe can have detrimental impacts on a team. After a season or two of poor performances in Europe, former European champions Toulon now find themselves in the Challenge Cup this season. Few players will want to risk joining Saracens and the problems that now come with them and will likely look elsewhere to play their rugby. Sarries will also risk losing some of their players who are not prepared to stay with the side on this uphill battle. Of course, they will have to reduce some of the salaries of particular players, and this will certainly play a role not only in who stays and goes but actually players’ commitment to the side.
All is not lost for McCall’s men, however. They are a side with unbelievable credentials and experience, and will no doubt be backing themselves to overleap the hurdle that faces them. It is of course likely that they do manage to put up a fight in Europe and also stay up in the Premiership, and then go back to their winning ways in the following seasons to come. As outlined, they are one of the best sides in Europe and so who better to face such a difficulty than them. Only time will tell, but this season may come to define the careers of some of the Sarries players and coaches.
Jack McSharry – Sport Writer