When Saracens were docked thirty five points at the beginning of the season, few doubted that they would still be around come the end. The club have such a depth of talent, such a ruthless winning mentality and mental toughness, that it was assumed inevitable they would be able to haul themselves from the floor of the Premiership table.
And so it has proved, with the champions gradually bearing down on Wasps, Irish, Bath and Tigers, now just 18 points of the drop.
However, reports emerging from Sky Sports this week suggest such efforts could yet prove in vain. The club are, apparently, on the verge of automatic relegation. In the face of these rumours, Saracens interim chief executive Edward Griffiths has affirmed no decision has yet been made on the club’s future. He did not, however, deny the possibility of automatic relegation.
“Discussions are continuing, and nothing has been finalised but our position remains the same,” Griffiths told BBC. “It is clearly in the interests of the league and English rugby that this matter is dealt with as soon as possible, and we are prepared to do whatever is reasonably required to draw that line.”
Clearly though, and Rob Baxter has been amongst the most outspoken on this issue, many believe that it is not in the interests of their club, the Premiership or English rugby, for Saracens to remain in the league. Other Premiership clubs are thought to have demanded Saracens prove they are currently operating within the £7m salary gap, or face relegation.
Baxter, coach, let us not forget, of Saracens biggest rivals, Exeter, has previously labelled the club ‘cheats,’ suggested the titles won by Saracens were done so ‘unfairly’ and also instructed the Sandy Park faithful to boo the side recently.
His chairman at Exeter, the ever outspoken Tony Rowe, has been similarly vocal, both threatening legal action and calling for Saracens to be relegated. “I don’t think the penalty is severe enough.” he said. “In America, if you’re in breach of the salary cap, you get thrown out completely.”
It is hard to image that these two have not been at the forefront of the push to have Saracens relegated, and, personally, I think this does Exeter no credit as a club. Sour grapes are never attractive.
Fundamentally, whilst the league of course has a duty to protect its financial viability and sporting integrity, automatic relegation feels perhaps a step too far, and those calling for harsher punishment seem only to be capitalising cynically, which does not benefit the league’s image. Surely a £5m fine and a thirty five point deduction is enough?
Written by Joe Ronan.