While a number of players will use Saracens’ relegation for breaching the salary cap as an opportunity to move on – either permanently or on loan – many of the team’s core are determined to stay and continue building the club’s legacy.
One such player is Jackson Wray, who graduated from the Sarries academy’s class of 2008 alongside England stars Owen Farrell, Jamie George and George Kruis, and now regularly captains the side in the absence of Brad Barritt.
The 29-year-old has made more than 200 appearances for Saracens, winning five Premiership titles and three European Champions Cups, but the fallout from the club’s salary cap saga is the biggest test yet of the team’s resolve.
“I’m definitely staying,” Wray tells City A.M. “I’ve only ever been at the club since I was 14. I don’t need or want to leave.
“I don’t envisage playing for anyone else in England and it’s not the right time to be going anywhere. My family are happy, I’m happy, the coaches are staying, a good number of my closest mates are staying.
“It’s going to be a good chapter to our story when it’s all done. Not many people can say they went through this as well.
“If we can come through the other side and go and win it again, then that will be an even bigger achievement than the first time around. There’s opportunity there when all the dust settles.”
‘Most people hate us anyway’
Saracens’ initial 35-point deduction and £5.4m fine following Premiership Rugby’s ruling that they were guilty of breaching the salary cap over several seasons was doubled to 70 points and relegation after they failed to prove they were in line with this season’s cap.
The issue stemmed from certain players enjoying investment from former chairman Nigel Wray – no relation to Jackson – in their off-field business ventures. Saracens argued that this did not constitute a salary top-up; Premiership Rugby disagreed.
“They were all done under the impression there wasn’t anything wrong with them. And the guys involved, not being funny, but they are England’s best players. So to say anyone’s annoyed or upset that they got X, Y and Z, is probably not right,” the back-rower says.
“Most people hate us anyway and this is just more of a reason to not like us. In many ways it’s brought us closer because you know people are coming at you from all angles.”
Before the season’s completion was plunged into doubt by the coronavirus outbreak, Saracens’ guaranteed relegation did not completely stop them from interfering in the play-off race, however.
Wins over Sale, Northampton and Gloucester turned Saracens into “a momentum ruiner”, Wray says.
Wray’s coffee venture
A strong finish to the campaign – whenever it resumes, given that a coronavirus suspension is expected to be imposed today – is not the only thing that Wray has been preparing for.
Later this month, his company, Eighty20 Cold Brew, will have their first full product run.
Wray’s premium cold brew coffee business is just the latest example of the entrepreneurial environment that Saracens has encouraged – although he makes clear there has been no investment from Saracens chiefs in this business.
“Everyone asks if anyone’s invested, but no one has,” he laughs. “It’s just myself and partner, Matt, a friend from school. We’re self-funding and will be that way for the foreseeable future until we basically run out of money. Or until we need a bit more expertise. We want to hold on to as much equity as we can.”
One team-mate to have also started their own business is Kruis, with cannabidiol oil company Fourfive CBD.
Kruis and ex-Sarries forward Dom Day have not only provided Wray with advice but also their product, which is used in one of the three current Eighty20 Cold Brew product lines available.
“Saracens have always been pushing people to develop off the field because it does help on the field. It keeps you grounded in many ways,” says Wray, who also has a degree in psychology.
The use of CBD oil as an aid for pain and injury recovery is becoming increasingly prominent in rugby, and with a water-soluble version of Kruis’s product in one Eighty20 cold brew edition, sport is just one market Wray is targeting.
Plenty to do
The Sunderland-born forward believes this variation on coffee, also available in original and “nitro” guises, can be used in cafes, cocktail bars and offices, as well as gyms.
He has already teamed up with independent coffee shops in St Albans, where he lives, and is working on a cocktail menu with a pub chain – the nitro edition of cold brew is an ideal replacement for the espresso in an espresso martini, Wray says.
Just as when he talks about Saracens, Wray’s passion for coffee is unwavering as he explains the process of producing organic cold brew.
It has taken 15 months to reach this point, and while he admits it has been tough juggling a new business with rugby and family commitments – he and wife Leanne have four children – Wray says he is “someone who needs and wants to have something going on”.
Fortunately – and when sport resumes – there will be plenty to do over the coming years as he fights to restore Saracens to the top of English and European rugby while also establishing Eighty20 as a leading brand in the cold brew coffee market.