Saracens coach admits 'end of an era' after relegation punishment


London (AFP)

European champions Saracens were facing the "end of an era" on Sunday after accepting their stunning relegation from the English Premiership.

The Premiership title holders were told on Saturday they would be relegated at the end of the season as punishment for the salary cap breaches which have already cost them 35 points and a £5.36 million fine.

Winners of four league titles in the last five years, Saracens will play in the Championship next term, having faced the impossible task of reducing their wage bill by up to £2 million to comply with regulations for the current season.

"In many ways this is the end of that era that dates back to the start of 2009. We have got some time to plan for a new era, a new journey, and that is the optimistic way of looking at it," said coach Mark McCall after a 27-24 win over Racing gave them a place in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

"Of course there are going to be changes. There's no doubt the bunch of players we've got in our squad now aren't going to be the same bunch of players we have in the Championship next year. That's for sure."

Earlier Sunday, Saracens chiefs apologised for the damaging saga and promised to restore the club's tarnished reputation.

In a statement entitled 'Saracens accepts relegation from the Gallagher Premiership', the club said: "The board of Saracens wishes to apologise unreservedly for the mistakes made in relation to the salary cap regulations.

"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 (Premiership Rugby), we have accepted the unprecedented measure of automatic relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-2020 season.

"We understand this decision will be difficult for the Saracens family to accept. 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."

Saracens' acceptance means the prospect of a drawn-out appeal process is over, but questions will quickly turn to the futures of their big-name players.

"Every player has got a slightly different situation," added McCall.

"We'll also have to talk to (England coach) Eddie Jones and see what he thinks, in terms of his established players from Saracens and the younger ones. Is he prepared for people to be playing in the Championship?"

"There's a Lions tour at the end of next season so we have to talk to (coach) Warren Gatland about what he would like from the Saracens players who are in contention."

Saracens are bottom of the Premiership table with minus seven points, lying 18 points behind 11th-placed Leicester.