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Saracens accept relegation amid salary cap scandal

Maro Itoje of Saracens dives over to score a try during the Champions Cup Round 6 match against Racing 92 (by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

English Premiership champion Saracens will be relegated from the top division of domestic rugby union at the end of the current 2019-20 season after admitting it will fail to meet salary cap regulations for the fourth campaign in a row.

The London club’s decision, which was confirmed on Saturday, comes after Premiership Rugby in November handed Saracens a 35-point deduction and a fine in excess of £5m (€5.85m/$6.5m) for breaches of its salary cap rules.

The announcement brought to a close a probe into business partnerships between some of the London club’s players and its chairman Nigel Wray, who stepped down earlier this month. The charges, which related to the three seasons spanning 2016-17 to 2018-19, were brought in June following a nine-month investigation by Premiership Rugby, the organising body of the top division of English club rugby union.

An Independent Panel ruled that Saracens failed to disclose payments to players in each of the three seasons. In addition, the club was found to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three campaigns. The Panel imposed a total fine of £5,360,272.31, along with the total deduction of 35 league points, which was applicable to the 2019-20 Premiership season.

Saracens has now decided to accept relegation to the second-tier Championship after admitting it would not meet the salary cap of £7m for 2019-20. The salary cap rules mean that breaches committed after the start of a season are punished the following campaign but Saracens, after talks with Premiership Rugby, have taken relegation for 2020-21 rather than wait a year.

Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: “Premiership Rugby is prepared to take strong action to enforce the regulations governing fair competition between our clubs.

“At the same time as enforcing the existing regulations, we want to ensure a level playing field for all clubs in the future, which is why we have asked Lord Myners to carry out an independently-led review of the Salary Cap. As part of this process, we will soon be announcing an open consultation so that everyone involved in the game has the opportunity to contribute to its future.

“The actions that we have taken – dealing with breaches of the current regulations and reviewing the system for the future – will help us to build a stronger league and uphold the confidence of supporters.”

Saracens is also the reigning European champion and Saturday’s announcement came 24 hours before it defeated French Top 14 club Racing 92 27-24 to advance to the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions Cup.

Relegation from the Premiership means Saracens will not be able to defend its European crown should it retain the trophy this season. Director of rugby Mark McCall has admitted that the move to the Championship will see its star-laden team, which includes England internationals Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje, broken up.

In a statement, Saracens apologised for the club’s “mistakes”. The statement added: “Our goal is to rebuild confidence and trust. The first step was to appoint a new independent chairman to lead on governance reform ensuring errors of the past are not replicated in the future.  Furthermore, following open and frank discussions with PRL, we have accepted the unprecedented measure of automatic relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-2020 season.

“The board must embody the values of the club, learn from its mistakes so the club can come back stronger. It is in the wider interests of the Premiership and English rugby to take this decisive step, to ensure everybody is able once again to focus on the game of rugby, which we all love.”