The Premiership champions, Saracens, have been handed a 35-point deduction and fined £5m after they were found to have breached salary cap regulations.
The draconian punishment from Premiership Rugby has left Saracens “shocked and disappointed”. It followed an investigation into the club’s practices over the past nine months after it came to light that Saracens’ most high profile players, including England internationals Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers, had entered into investment or property partnerships with the club chairman, Nigel Wray.
The investigation, led by Andrew Rodgers, Premiership Rugby’s salary cap manager, concluded that Saracens did have a case to answer regarding alleged breaches of the cap over the past three Premiership seasons.
The case was referred to the independent Sports Resolutions disputes service, who appointed a panel which upheld the charges against Saracens after a five-day hearing in September and October.
A statement from Premiership Rugby said: “The decision of the independent panel is that Saracens Rugby Club failed to disclose payments to players in each of the seasons [2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19].
“In addition the club is found to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three seasons.”
The 35-point sanction represents the maximum under the regulations and would mean Saracens are immediately pitched into a struggle against relegation if it is upheld. Not since the 2008-09 season would a 35-point deduction have resulted in Saracens’ relegation, but to overcome such a deficit from the off would require new dimensions of their famous mental resilience. The full fine totals £5,360,272.31.
The domestic salary cap aims to level the playing field for all clubs in the league and now stands at £7m plus two marquee players, with a number of other allowances made for homegrown and English-qualified players.
The panel, comprised of former supreme court justice Lord Dyson, Aidan Robertson QC and lawyer Jeremy Summers, rejected Saracens’ challenge on “competition law grounds to the validity of the regulations”.
Saracens’ academy is the most productive in the Premiership, supplying England with the spine of its current team and nine players – including South Africa’s Vincent Koch – featured during Saturday’s World Cup final. Saracens have won multiple trophies as a result, five times English champions and thrice European in the past nine seasons.
Saracens have responded by saying they will launch an appeal against all the panel’s findings.
In a statement, the club said: “The club is pleased the panel acknowledged it did not deliberately attempt to breach the salary cap and steadfastly maintains that player co-investments do not constitute salary under the regulations. This view is supported by independent legal and professional experts.
“The club will continue to vigorously defend this position especially as PRL precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations.
“As previously stated, the club made administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions to PRL and for this we apologise. We are pleased to confirm we now have a robust governance framework in place and this will be overseen by an external counsel to ensure the Club follows best practice.
“Furthermore, it is the club’s belief that the panel’s narrow interpretation of the regulations is detrimental to player welfare across the league and is damaging the development of elite level rugby in the UK.”