Sarries salary saga bigger than bloodgate
OPINION: The Saracens salary cap scandal is seismic for English rugby, it’s bigger than bloodgate and there will be more fallout to come.
They have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36 million, which is as tough a sanction as Premiership Rugby could impose under their regulations, but people will be waiting with bated breath to see what happens to the squad moving forward.
Bloodgate was huge and good people lost their jobs for various reasons but it was a practice that people in the game knew had been going on a bit elsewhere as well. We can see from some of the statements from other clubs what they’ve made of this.
I know there’s a precedent for stripping teams of their titles in other sports, with it having happened to Melbourne Storm in rugby league in particular, but I don’t think it’s in the Premiership’s rules to do that.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B in football as well as having a couple of titles taken away from them after a scandal of a slightly different nature and that is the punishment that Exeter chief executive Tony Rowe and others have called for.
I know the Chiefs would have a couple more trophies in the cabinet if Saracens were stripped of their titles but, as Rob Baxter has pointed out, you don’t know what would have happened retrospectively and I don’t think it makes much difference.
Exeter isn’t suddenly going to have massive celebrations if they’re handed another Premiership title or two and who knows what would have happened in recent finals if they’d have been up against another team.
Even if they aren’t taken away from Saracens, though, those Premiership titles will always be tainted now.
The here and now and what happens moving forward is far more important, though. We are yet to hear from Premiership Rugby whether this current Saracens squad is still over the salary cap and if it is, will they be forced to make changes immediately?
The players will be thinking about it and that’s the hardest thing to sort out because people’s lives are massively affected by it and nobody wants to see people lose their jobs. Players have signed contracts too and might not want to be moved on if it comes to that.
I’m sure conversations will be going on behind the scenes but Saracens are appealing the judgement and they may yet be successful.
The club is still insisting that it made “administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions” and are maintaining that “player co-investments do not constitute salary under the regulations”.
A 35-point penalty is the maximum sanction available under the guidelines and that would mean certain relegation for most teams. It doesn’t for Saracens and I know they’d have stayed up even with that penalty every year since 2009 but they are going to have a real battle on their hands.
The Premiership is closer than ever and with the knock-on effect of a World Cup and internationals only being able to play seven league games if you prioritise Europe and make it to the final, which they might have to do to make it into next season’s Champions Cup, it isn’t going to be easy.
Anyone in their right mind who’s looked at that squad and knows the market will have been fairly sure that something isn’t right because you can’t realistically have that much quality throughout the squad.
To have three fullbacks of the calibre of Elliot Daly, Liam Williams and Alex Goode on your books is ridiculous and there’s similar strength in various other positions as well.
There are also reports of players allegedly signing for Saracens on less money than they’re on at the club they’re moving from or than they’ve been offered elsewhere.
It’s fair to point out how much Saracens have done for English rugby in terms of producing players who played in the World Cup final last weekend but other clubs have been in a similar position and had a similar dilemma.
Harlequins won the title in 2012 and had the likes of Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Marler and others playing for England. Their wages obviously increased and the next tier of players at Quins then wasn’t anywhere near as good and that had an effect on them during international windows and they haven’t won the league since.
Director Nick Leslau stepped down after 20 years a couple of weeks ago and finance director Bernard van Zyl, who was in charge of managing compliance with salary cap regulations, also left the club in September.
Whether those and other departures have anything to do with this investigation hasn’t been made public but people are bound to be putting two and two together.
There will be an appeal but I think it’s good that Saracens have finally been taken to task because if there are going to be lots of loopholes and ways of circumnavigating the rules, then you question what the point of having a salary cap is as I have done before.
Nigel Wray has described this as “devastating” and says it feels like “the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet”.
I don’t think he would walk away because he loves the club and has built it up over the years but it’s always a risk in sport with so many clubs beholden to one major benefactor.
I had experience of it at Brive when Daniel Derichebourg was pumping a load of money in and then suffered because of the financial crash and wanted to sell the club. I don’t think that’ll happen here but it’s always a worry.
Premiership Rugby have thrown the biggest book at Saracens that they can and I think that’s justified, with the obvious caveat that we haven’t seen the full report because it hasn’t been published. If you’re going to have a salary cap, you have to enforce it.
With a bit of help from some excellent work from people at The Daily Mail investigating it, that is happening now and it will serve as a warning to other clubs as well
The regulations are in place to protect clubs from going bust, as Richmond did in 1999 and others have as well, and to make things fair and even for all clubs.
It clearly hasn’t been a level playing field over the last few years and it’s only right that is addressed. Saracens are appealing, as is their right, but it’s not a good look for the sport and the right thing for rugby would be to accept it and move on.
By Andy Goode, RugbyPass