An article from David Parsley at the Independent that nicely summarises the whole sorry affair.
Saracens committed the deed, but the rugby community gave them permission by helping to cover it up
As the final whistle blew at Sandy Park it was only a matter of seconds before the media almost entirely forgot Exeter Chiefs’ scrappy 33-14 victory over La Rochelle.
The fact that the Devon club had secured their first ever home quarter-final in the European Rugby Champions Cup should have focused the minds of the gathered press as they returned behind the scenes to bash out their reports.
But, at 7.17pm mobile phones pinged. News of Saracens‘ automatic relegation from the English Premiership had arrived in inboxes. It was, after all, a good day to bury bad news as everyone had been diverted by the news of Harry and Meghan’s abdication from royal duties.
How did we get here?
But, as the scribes filed their stories about the biggest news English rugby has ever had, I found myself considering how we got here in the first place.
There is a whole host of reasons to explain why I am ashamed of rugby right now. It’s not merely because of Saracens’ systematic cheating.
From the league’s governing body – Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) – to Saracens, the bitterness of 12 angry men at the helm of the other PRL clubs, and even those rugby writers, no one in English rugby comes out of this without something to be ashamed of.
Let’s start with the offenders themselves. While everything in this sorry saga remains hazy – more on that disgrace later – it is widely accepted that Saracens will complete this Premiership season before their relegation some £2m over the £7m salary cap.
Ever since last November, when PRL dished out its initial sanction of a 35-point deduction and £5.4m fine for breaches during the three previous seasons, the club had, until very recently, failed to show any contrition. Indeed, they have defended their actions, claimed it was an accident and insisted they were playing within the cap this season. What complete rot.
Had Wray, who i revealed had cut all ties with the club just last Thursday, apologised and actually done something to lower the wage bill, rather than bringing in yet more England internationals, then I believe his team would have been given the benefit of the doubt this season and it may not have come to relegation.
Instead, Saracens did nothing to appease their club rivals, and the likes of Exeter chairman Tony Rowe led the calls for them to face a far tougher punishment.
The fact that Saracens accepted relegation rather than open up their books says it all.
PRL rules not fit for purpose
As for PRL, it has handled all this appallingly. It relies on the regulations for not publishing the results of its investigation into the club’s cap breaches over the three previous seasons.
In 2015 all 13 clubs on the board of PRL – the current Premiership clubs, plus Newcastle – agreed not to make an investigation into Saracens previous breach public. That rule still applies today. In order to publish the report immediately requires the backing of all 13 clubs to change that regulation. Guess which club has not voted for its publication.
However, there is some hope it could be published next season, as a simple majority of the clubs would need to vote for that. Nevertheless, the excuses not to do so now are pathetic.
People in rugby knew for years
The rugby community is not blameless in this cover up either; for years they were certain Saracens were cheating, yet no one had the inclination to find out how.
It took the industrious work of Laura Lambert – a non-rugby reporter from the Daily Mail – to uncover the facts and spark the investigation. Were it not for her excellent work I doubt we would be where we are today.
Even when you look at the club chairman and owners, other than Exeter’s Rowe, the remaining 12 have been remarkably quiet. As some of Saracens’ supporters have correctly asked: what have the silent club bosses got to hide?
English rugby is in a total mess. Publish the report, get far greater independence on the PRL board, don’t let the clubs make the rules of the game to suit them, and stop covering up all the ills of the sport. Then, and only then, can rugby even begin to move on from this and become the truly global sport it deserves to be.