One of the most baffling things about the last few days, to my eyes, is how delighted everybody seems to be. Premiership Rugby has stuffed it to the cheats, ex-players are making gags on twitter, rival fans are gleefully rubbing salt into Saracens seven-million-quid-salary-sized wounds. And nobody, nobody, seems to be realising that this whole nonsense really is dreadful for English rugby.
First of all, English rugby has been dominated for the last decade by a team that cheated. Saracens willfully broke the salary cap to gain an advantage, won the league again and again, failed to comply to cap this season and now, as champions, are being relegated.
This fiasco is dreadful for the league’s image, completely ruining the reputation one of its biggest brands. Such a farce screams mismanagement at all levels, and I personally would not be surprised to discover that Saracens aren’t the only ones breaking the rules.
Fundamentally, it is a terrible look for the Premiership, and the squabbling and infighting and general delight of other clubs hardly screams honourable, fair and magnanimous sporting competition. Rugby is a sport that prides itself on values of decency, fairness and respect. It looks now like one crazed by money and success.
Furthermore, even if other big clubs aren’t already flying close to the salary cap sun (and one suspects they are), Mark McCall confirmed yesterday that there are no relegation clauses in Saracens players contracts, which begs all sorts of questions, who will stay? who will go? on what terms? to where?
If any of Saracens’ England internationals want to stay in international contention they presumably will have to stay in England. It is hard to imagine they will all stay at Sarries, and yet who can afford to take them on? Unloading a dozen or so top quality players onto other English clubs will only further screw the wider salary structure of the Premiership.
If they do not leave, then what about their international prospects. Eddie Jones can select players from the Championship. But can the England captain, Owen Farrell, from both a sporting and marketing perspective, be playing Championship rugby week in week out. What would it mean for his Lions 2021 prospects? What will it mean for the England squad this coming Six Nations? It would be impossible not to get distracted by such a public storm.
The whole thing is ridiculous. Saracens were incredible, light years ahead of most clubs, we all heralded them as such, they got greedy, and now they’re a sinking ship. But Saracens going down has implications far beyond North London, it has implications for all of English rugby. What an absurd situation it all is.
Written by Joe Ronan.