Saracens to appeal 35-point deduction and £5.3m fine for salary cap breach

5 November 2019, 16:06

Saracens are appealing the points deduction and fine
Saracens are appealing the points deduction and fine. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Premiership Rugby and European Champions Saracens are facing the biggest sanction in the history of the UK domestic game after breaching salary cap regulations.

The back-to-back Premiership champions will appeal the "devastating" and "heavy-handed" punishment, club chairman Nigel Wray confirmed.

A Premiership Rugby (PRL) statement confirmed the sanctions will be temporarily suspended, preventing Saracens from dropping to -26 points after three games in the league table.

However, should the punishments be upheld the rugby giants will face the points deduction and the full £5,360,272.31 fine within 21 days of the ruling.

Financial arrangements between their multi-millionaire owner Nigel Wray and players including England's returning World Cup stars Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers were under investigation.

An independent panel, led by barrister Lord Dyson, charged Saracens with failing to disclose player payments in the three seasons prior to the current 2019-20 rugby calendar and exceeding the ceiling for payments to senior players.

The club previously insisted they "readily comply" with the division's salary cap regulations after a Daily Mail investigation revealed the transactions in question.

They said they were able to spend above the £7 million cap because they housed a high proportion of home-grown players in their squad - roughly 60 per cent.

A statement released by Wray read: "For over 25 years, I have put my heart and soul into the game I love. Together we have created something incredibly special with the Saracens family, both on and off the field.

"This is absolutely devastating for everyone associated with this amazing group of players, staff, partners and fans."

The club temporarily sat bottom of the table with -26 points
The club temporarily sat bottom of the table with -26 points. Picture: PA

The size of the undisclosed payments are yet to be released but they are thought to be focused on Wray's involvement in companies such as VunProp Ltd (Mako and Billy Vunipola), Faz Investments Ltd (Owen Farrell), Wiggy9 Ltd (Richard Wigglesworth) and MN Property Solutions Ltd (Maro Itoje).

The independent panel was set up after a nine-month Premiership Rugby investigation which led to the charges being brought forward in June. The panel upheld all the charges.

Wray added: "It has been acknowledged by the panel that we never deliberately sought to mislead anyone or breach the cap and that's why it feels like the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet. We will appeal all the findings."

Saracens is the most successful English side in the last decade, winning five Premiership titles since 2011 and three European Championships since 2016, and have been around since 1876.

The payments are thought to centre around several England stars including Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola
The payments are thought to centre around several England stars including Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola. Picture: PA

A separate statement from the club defended the use of co-investment arrangements with players, and stated that "PRL precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations."

The club admitted some administrative errors had been made that led to some transactions not being disclosed to Premiership Rugby, and apologised for those errors.

However, they added: "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.

"Saracens is proud of its pioneering, innovative approach to player welfare, developing their talents and supporting their entrepreneurial spirit for life beyond rugby."

Salary cap regulations were introduced in 1999 shortly after English rugby turned professional and are annually reviewed.

Premiership Rugby say the rules are vital for ensuring the sport remains competitive and help clubs and the league maintain financial stability.