SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Saracens have done the right thing by accepting their punishment for breaching salary cap. Fighting on would have caused anarchy
- Saracens will not ask for a review of punishment for salary cap breaches
- Club have been given £5.3million fine and 35-point penalty for their offences
- Club owner Nigel Wray had initially claimed they would review the decision
- Sportsmail investigation had led to action by an independent disciplinary panel
It will hurt horribly but Nigel Wray and Saracens have done the right thing by taking their medicine and accepting Premiership Rugby’s 35-point deduction for this season and the fine of £5.36million.
To fight their corner any longer would have caused incalculable damage to the club and to the wider game. This had the potential to run and run, dragging English rugby down with it.
The unalterable fact is that after the investigative journalism by Sportsmail, followed by an independent three-man panel of legal experts examining those revelations in detail, Saracens were found to be in breach of the salary cap.
Saracens owner Nigel Wray (pictured) confirmed that his club had accepted their punishment
That is a set of regulations Saracens are fully signed up to by virtue of being a founder member of Premiership Rugby, and the umbrella organisation would not have taken these measures lightly.
Wray is an honourable man in my experience and in his statement on Monday he admitted ‘mistakes’, conceding that the club must accept the consequences ‘with humility’. That approach is surely the way forward, no matter how painful.
I would be surprised if Saracens set out deliberately to break the rules.
To my mind they were trying to find a way to work within them and accommodate the large number of star England players they have produced. But they unquestionably strayed into very contentious territory the moment they decided to go down the co-investor route.
England’s Owen Farrell (left) and lock Maro Itoje (right) were among those involved with Wray
Saracens are now bottom of the Premiership table, sat on -22 points after their punishment
Premiership Rugby have examined the case and their ruling could not have been clearer or stronger.
There was little room for argument. For Saracens to not have accepted that ruling would have resulted in sporting anarchy and that is the last thing rugby needs.
Can you imagine a situation in which an appeal was still being considered in January, February or even later? These things take time — the panel itself sat for most of the summer and early autumn to make this ruling.
Many of the Premiership clubs would not know whether they were fighting relegation or not, whether they were in the hunt for a place in Europe or not, or exactly where they stood in terms of a top-four play-off place. That would have been intolerable.
The Premiership champions will now pay a £5.3million fine and have 35 points deducted
By accepting the ruling, Saracens have guaranteed the integrity of all this season’s Premiership action — which was vital for the wider English game — and they will have also cleared their heads.
Saracens now know the task ahead. There can be no thought in the back of their minds, no matter how remote, that there might be a lifeline. Now they must confront reality.
They are on minus-22 points and history suggests they will need about 40 to avoid relegation.
So their minimum target should be 65 points from their last 18 games to avoid going down to the Championship, which incidentally could have huge implications for England, who exclude Championship players from selection.
In a statement, Wray insisted director of rugby Mark McCall and his staff were not to blame
Saracens are well capable of that, especially if they prioritise the Premiership over Europe and select accordingly, although that in itself might attract some criticism from the Champions Cup organisers.
Avoiding relegation will still be a mountain to climb, though.
Knowing Saracens, their mentality will be to target a top-six place and a Champions Cup spot for next season.
If you take last season, for example, they would still have finished 10th — and stayed up — had they been docked 35 points.
It’s going to be incredibly difficult but that is probably the right mindset to achieve the minimum aim, which is avoiding the drop.
Wray called for the whole squad to pull together and support each other following the news
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