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Saracens admit mistakes, accept sanctions over salary cap breach

An independent panel found earlier this month that Saracens had both failed to disclose payments to players and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the past three seasons to break the £7 million salary cap.

Saracens players leave the field after their European Champions Cup match against Racing 92 on 17 November 2019. Picture: @racing92/twitter

LONDON - English and European champions Saracens admitted making mistakes as they confirmed they would not appeal a 35-point penalty and fine of over £5 million ($6.5 million) for breaches of salary cap regulations on Monday.

An independent panel found earlier this month that Saracens had both failed to disclose payments to players and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the past three seasons to break the £7 million salary cap.

Saracens - who provided nine of the England squad including captain Owen Farrell that reached last month's Rugby World Cup final - had been subject to a nine-month investigation.

"We have made mistakes and so, with humility, we must accept these penalties," said Saracens chairman Nigel Wray, who had previously signalled his intention to appeal, in a joint statement on behalf of the club and Premiership Rugby.

“We confirm our commitment to the salary cap, and the underlying principle of a level playing field, and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard."

It is long-time benefactor Wray's arrangements in setting up joint-business ventures with stars like Farrell, Mako and Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje that is believed to have come under scrutiny from the independent panel.

Questions remain, though, over whether Saracens will be able to keep such a deep and talented squad together going forward, while complying with the salary cap regulations.

The points deduction will now come into effect, dropping Saracens from third in the table on 13 points, a point behind leaders Bristol, to -22 points, 26 adrift of bottom club Leicester.

To have any chance of defending their Premiership title, Saracens would need to make it back into the top four to reach the playoffs.

Darren Childs, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, said: "We welcome Saracens’ decision to accept the verdict of the independent panel and are pleased the club has crucially reaffirmed its commitment to the Premiership Rugby Salary Cap.

"This is the right outcome for English club rugby. Bringing this process to a conclusion means that we can focus on working in partnership with all clubs to continue to build a competitive and successful league."

EUROPEAN DEFEAT

The points deduction could have a massive impact not only on Saracens' domestic campaign but also on their defence of the European Champions Cup.

The holders were thumped 30-10 by Racing 92 in their opening group game on Sunday and may have to focus their resources on ensuring they are not relegated from the English Premiership.

England coach Eddie Jones even hinted it could even affect his selection at international level.

"Obviously there may be some dislocation between Saracens players and the rest of the clubs," Jones, who was Saracens' director of rugby in 2008-09, told the BBC. "That's a reality.

"So we may have to work to mend those relationships a bit harder, and there might be some Saracens players who feel like they've got to play for their club instead of their country, to make sure they don't go down. So we'll weigh all those up as they come about."

For many of Saracens' rivals, though, the punishment does not go far enough with the club not being stripped of its two English and two European titles won over the past three seasons.

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe, who has seen his side lose in the Premiership final for the past two seasons, called for Saracens to be relegated.

Harlequins' Danny Care - England's second most capped scrum-half with 82 caps - went further and said they should stay down for three seasons to compensate the same amount of time they have been punished for not operating inside the salary cap.

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