Saracens drop appeal against fine and 35-point deduction over salary cap breach

Saracens: Bottom of the Premiership after points deducation
Saracens: Bottom of the Premiership after points deducation

Saracens have chosen not to appeal against their 35-point deduction and £5.36million fine for salary cap breaches.

The English and European champions and Premiership Rugby have released a joint statement declaring the verdict of the independent disciplinary panel will stand unchallenged.

In an apparent admission of guilt, Saracens chairman Nigel Wray said: "We have made mistakes and so, with humility, we must accept these penalties.

"As a club, we will now pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead.

"We confirm our commitment to the salary cap, and the underlying principle of a level playing field, and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard."


Key Questions

Why does the sport have a salary cap and how big is it?

Premiership Rugby introduced the salary cap in 1999 with the twin aims of ensuring a level playing field and maintaining a competitive, growing and financially sustainable league, ie: preventing the clubs from the pitfalls of over-spending.

The cap was increased from £6.5m to £7m ahead of the 2017-18 season and will remain at this level until the end of the 2019-20 season. The ceiling includes dispensation for academy and injured players and effectively raises the possible spend to around £9m.

What exactly have Saracens done?

Premiership Rugby responded to allegations of a salary cap breach by carrying out an investigation which took nine months. An independent panel was then appointed in June by dispute service, Sport Resolutions, and earlier this month it ruled that Saracens failed to disclose payments to players in each of the last three seasons. It concluded that the club also exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in that time.

No details have been revealed on the size of the undisclosed payments or the recipients but Premiership Rugby's investigations were thought to have centred around owner Nigel Wray's involvements 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).

How does the punishment compare with any previous breaches?

For years there have been rumours of clubs breaking the cap in a big way - in 2015 eight of the top-flight clubs took the unusual step of publicly announcing they had not been investigated for potential breaches - but nothing was proven until now.

In February, Harlequins were fined £6,239.50 after exceeding the Premiership's salary cap in the 2017-18 season. They were £12,479 over the £7m limit but Premiership Rugby said there was no suggestion the breach was deliberate and the club were docked 50p per £1 overspent in accordance with competition regulations.

What now for Saracens?

The sanctions do not affect any of the club's past titles and Saracens, who now sit 26 points adrift of Leicester at the foot of the Premiership table after four matches, insist they will not be forced to sell players as a result of the ruling.


The maximum possible fine and points deduction were approved for breaches during three seasons up to and including the 2018-19 campaign and follows a nine-month investigation by Premiership Rugby.

The Sport Resolutions panel, chaired by Lord Dyson, upheld all charges after finding that Saracens had failed to disclose payments to players and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three seasons.

Wray revealed the decision not to appeal was on the grounds that it would be "a costly, time consuming and destabilising exercise", adding that it was also important to act for the "good of the game".

The 71-year-old had previously stated that co-investments with players did not constitute salary and should therefore not not count towards the £7million salary cap.

"I recognise that the arrangements between myself and players, made in good faith, which comprise the material element of the charges, should have been brought to the attention of the salary cap manager for consultation prior to entering into them," he said.

"It is significant that following extensive investigations the independent panel stated that we have 'not deliberately sought to circumvent the regulations', albeit we recognise that some of our actions were considered to be 'reckless'.

"As chairman, I must take full responsibility for the arrangements that led to this outcome. It is important to stress that our excellent coaching staff were not involved in these issues in any way.

"In addition, we can confirm that we are complying strictly with the salary cap regulations in the current season and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard.

"We will shortly introduce robust independent governance measures acceptable to all, including the appointment to the Saracens board of a director, who will oversee a new governance regime.

"I will continue as always to support the club financially going forwards to ensure there is no financial instability or uncertainty.

"Perhaps we have done the wrong thing for the right reasons, but we must now draw a line and come together as Saracens to fully support our players, our coaches and our hard-working staff."

For the first time since the World Cup, Saracens' entire squad will on Wednesday gather at the club's Hertfordshire training ground to discuss the fallout to the biggest scandal in English club rugby history.

Even with the 35-point deduction, which comes into immediate effect to leave them 26 points adrift of 11th-placed Leicester, they are unlikely to be relegated on the strength of their points totals for each of the last three seasons.

But they must now demonstrate how they are acting within the salary cap regulations for the current campaign having been in breach since 2016.

Their Champions Cup defence began with a 30-10 mauling at Racing 92 on Sunday and they face the difficult challenge of prioritising their European and domestic challenges.

"This is the right outcome for English club rugby," Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said.

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