What now for Saracens after salary cap breach?
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London (AFP) –
Reigning Premiership and European champions Saracens will play in the second tier of English rugby next season following their relegation from the top flight for salary cap breaches.
AFP Sport highlights the issues the crisis-engulfed club will have to face.
The glut of trophies lifted by successive Saracens captains since 2011 -- five Premierships and three European Champions Cups, including the double on two occasions -- will come to a juddering halt. Even if they were to retain their European Champions Trophy, the club would not be able to defend it next season.
Unfamiliar faces and places
Saracens' fans will need to consult a map to find some of their second-tier opponents next season. Visits to familiar locations such as Bath will be replaced by exotic trips to Cornwall and the Channel Islands. The Saracens Supporters' Association has pledged their backing. "We sympathise with our members and feel that continued support for the team is the best foot forward now," the association said in an email.
Stars face dilemma
The star-studded Saracens squad face a dilemma as to whether to stay and help the club regain their elite status or leave, either in a loan move or permanently. The club will have to radically adjust their wage bill while players such as Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje will have the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in mind.
Second-tier rugby is not an ideal preparation for the Test game and England coach Eddie Jones will play an influential role.
"We'll also have to talk to 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?" director of rugby Mark McCall told the BBC.
"Keeping the players against their will is never going to work. We need to see how the meetings go next week and see where some players' thoughts are."
However, Chris Boyd, director of rugby at Northampton Saints, has warned there is no "pot of gold" at other Premiership clubs to enable them to sign Saracens players.
Northern Irishman McCall remarked last week that a fifth of his life had been spent at Saracens and he sounds prepared to stay on.
"We have the opportunity now to reflect and review and start to plan our future," the 52-year-old former Ireland centre told the BBC. "I very much hope to be a part of that future."
McCall remains proud of Saracens' record even if the validity of their success is under scrutiny.
"Those of us who have been here for the 10 years, they know what went into that success," he said. "But no-one wants to listen to that and we understand that. It's not all black and white."
Saracens' sponsors have remained loyal so far. However, the club's reputation has taken a battering, with their rivals and rugby fans fierce in their condemnation.
Exeter have been especially blunt -- they have lost in the Premiership final to Saracens in the past two seasons.
"They have cheated and I'm just a bit upset it has taken so long," said Exeter's chief executive Tony Rowe.
© 2020 AFP