Saracens' rivals scent blood over salary cap breach

London (AFP) –


European rugby champions Saracens on Wednesday faced an angry call from rivals Exeter to be automatically relegated for breaching the English Premiership's £7 million ($9 million) salary cap over several seasons.

Saracens are appealing their 35-point deduction and fine of over £5 million -- the sanctions are on hold until a verdict is delivered, likely in 2020 -- which has cast a huge pall over Saracens trophy-laden success of the past five years.

The club, home to seven of the England squad that reached the Rugby World Cup final including captain Owen Farrell, have won three of the last four European Champions Cups and four of the past five Premiership titles.

Saracens have evidently decided to circle the wagons and angered the organisers of the European Champions Cup by refusing to send anyone to the launch in Cardiff on Wednesday.

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe said he felt especially aggrieved having seen his club lose to Saracens in the Premiership final in the past two seasons.

"They should be automatically relegated," he told The Times.

"I shall be lobbying to change it. In America, if you are in professional sport and you are found guilty of breaking the salary cap, you are chucked out.

"No messing. There is no room in professional sport for cheats."

If the 35-point punishment was applied now, Saracens would have minus 26 points

- 'Dam has been broken' -

It is the arrangements of long-time benefactor and chairman Nigel Wray with stars like Farrell, the Vunipola brothers and Maro Itoje that are believed to have condemned the club following a nine month investigation by the Premiership and subsequently a three-man independent panel led by a distinguished judge.

This took the form of Wray setting up joint-business ventures with the players such as VunProp Ltd, for the Vunipola brothers, Faz Investments Ltd (Farrell) and MN Property Solutions Ltd (Itoje).

However, Wray -- who is believed to have invested around £40million of his own fortune since becoming involved in 1995 -- told the Daily Mirror in May he saw this as being separate from their salaries.

"The career of a rugby player might end tomorrow," said Wray.

"We have to help them build a much better tomorrow. Hopefully that time will be in their mid-30s but at some stage players will fall off a cliff.

"Their salary will go down by 90 percent.

"They will lose the 'family' they have been with for 15 years.

"We've got to work at giving them a better future. And that's what we do and will continue to do."

Club insiders have told The Times they fear Wray -- who was apparently shocked at the outcome having been told by his legal team the panel had not laid a "glove on them" after their hearing -- could well move to sell the club if it is rejected.

There is also the question mark hanging over the futures of some of their star talent -- Itoje and Farrell are on long-term contracts but Wales full-back Liam Williams will be out of contract come the end of the campaign and could be forced to leave if the appeal fails.

Wray and Saracens will have a very narrow remit in terms of their appeal, which has led many to conclude they face an uphill battle.

"The review can only be on the basis that there has been an error of law, the decision is irrational or that there has been some procedural unfairness," the Premiership said in a statement.

Rowe's demand that Saracens be relegated is the tip of the iceberg as the Daily Telegraph has seen internal documents between other clubs declaring they are ready to cancel their fixtures with the champions if they pursue the case to the courts.

However, former England international Austin Healey warned that the holier-than-thou attitude of Saracens' rivals could be ill-advised as the spotlight may yet fall on them.

"I imagine there will be a pursuit of other clubs," Healey wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

"The dam has been broken now, so you might as well go after all of them."