Thursday 23 January 2020 9:26 pm

Saracens' relegation from the Premiership is a sad moment for English rugby and salary cap rules must change as a result

Saracens are being relegated and, putting the specifics aside for a moment, I think that is a sad state of affairs for English rugby. 

Former chairman Nigel Wray has apologised for his actions in failing to comply with the Premiership salary cap, but I have sympathy for him.

In many ways what he did – entering into commercial arrangements with players – was a savvy move, albeit in a grey area. Wray must have known he was operating close to the line, but the deals themselves were, it seems, bona fide.

Saracens were fined £5.36m and deducted 35 points in November, which amounted to a hefty slap on the wrist, and I think relegation is drastic and a step too far.

Reprimanded

Although Exeter chairman Tony Rowe has been baying for blood, other clubs have been keeping quiet and I wonder if that is because they have their own concerns about compliance.

What I think is particularly sad is that Saracens have effectively been reprimanded for developing world-class homegrown talent and doing all they could to hold onto them.

Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje came through the Saracens academy system (via Getty Images)

Although they have bought high-profile players like Elliot Daly and Liam Williams, Saracens are not the Real Madrid of rugby, merely buying up Galacticos from their competitors. The likes of Owen Farrell, George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Jamie George have all come through the Sarries academy to become regulars for England. 

Once they have become successful their market value obviously increases, so how are the club supposed to hold on to them inside the £7m per year salary cap?

Counter-productive

I think the current rules are counter-productive, as they are essentially acting as a massive deterrent to the ultimate goal of developing world-class players. 

The Premiership is not a communist state. It is supposed to be an elite, competitive environment and the salary cap, as it is at the moment, doesn’t fit into that.

If the league wants to shut everything down, start again and redistribute the players via an NFL-style draft system then great. But I can think of an easier compromise. 

nigel wray
Wray entered into business deals with Saracens players without informing the Premiership’s salary cap officer (via Getty Images)

I think there needs to be a distinction in the salary cap between players the club have developed themselves, and those they have brought in from elsewhere, because the league should reward, and not reprimand, those who bring through players. That is the ultimate goal in my eyes.

Therefore I would like to see a system whereby the players nurtured by the academy have their salary capped at a higher level, or discounted from the overall figure. That would incentivise clubs to look within their ranks, rather than recruit from elsewhere, and help England to produce the best players. 

Unanswered questions

Saracens have not won four of the last five Premiership titles and three of the last four Champions Cup titles because of their business dealings off the pitch. They have done so because of their culture, their coaching and players they’ve brought through.

Their relegation at the end of the season leaves lots of unanswered questions and it is a disaster for England. As it stands, seven of the current Six Nations squad will be plying their trade in the Championship next season.

Of course, they could choose to move elsewhere, but the fact they would be forced to do so because of money and not performance is a shame. 

In my view the whole affair has been poorly managed. The end result is that everybody – the league, Saracens and the players – is poorer for it.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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