It’s not been the greatest few days to be a Saracens fan. In the last 24 hours the London (ish) club have conceded tries on the pitch and court cases off it. Yesterday, Sarries were convincingly beaten 30-10 by Racing 92 in their opening game of the Champions Cup; whilst this morning the club has announced that they have agreed to drop their appeal against the imposed fine and points penalty for their breach of the salary cap.
Whilst previously arguing that he would “appeal against all the findings”, owner Nigel Wray is set to renege on this decision, concluding that the chances of a successful appeal are too slim.
This puts Saracens in a tricky position. Facing a fine of £5.4m, they will also now sit bottom of the Rugby Premiership on minus 22 points, 26 adrift of Leicester in eleventh. It will take them a minimum of six games to make up that deficit alone, whilst next year’s Six Nations will see Sarries lose their international players for a further five matches this season.
Saracens’ season has now changed immeasurably. Whilst a few weeks ago their sights would have been set on defending the Premiership and the Champion’s Cup, now they face a battle for survival in a domestic campaign where they will have to focus all of their resources.
Saracens now have to re-evaluate. Survival must be the first port of call and then after that they can start looking to climb up the table in search of a place in next year’s Champion’s Cup. However, this will be a phenomenal effort.
Last year, Sarries’ points tally of 78 would have seen them finish tenth on 43 points after a 35-point reduction. However, comparisons are hard to make.
The aura and confidence around the side of last year has been lost with Sunday’s performance serving to prove that. Racing 92 came out bonus-point winners, and the Paris club never looked like losing after scoring ten points in as many minutes through a penalty and a converted try.
Much has been made of Saracens’ ‘culture’ over the last few years. This is easy to maintain on the back of wins on the pitch and high wages off it. Now, when the chips are down, the clubs’ ethos is facing its first existential test.
Should they come through this, it will be a testament to the culture supposedly central to this club, but if things fall apart and the centre cannot hold then Sarries’ exceptionalist mentality will be laid bare.
Filled with international stars on big pay cheques, Sarries will have to hope their players remain loyal with difficult times ahead.