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If rugby needed a quieter month to reflect and recuperate after an action-packed World Cup, the news a 35-point deduction and the levying of a hefty fine against the European champions and two-time defending Premiership winners was not perhaps the way to begin it.
After years of rumours and suggestions that something wasn’t quite right, it was finally ruled by an independent panel that Saracens had breached the salary cap, and a stiff punishment was handed down.
The club responded by avoiding the official launch of the Champions Cup, despite winning the competition last season. Exeter’s owner responded by calling for the stripping of titles while Gloucester fans threw fake money at Saracens’ players in a recent match.
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An appeal may be coming, with rumours that the issue may not be fully settled until the spring, and exactly how the club will be impacted on the field this season and next is entirely unclear. It has been a lively couple of weeks.
All of that means is that as the Champions Cup begins this weekend, the wonderful events in Japan seem curiously distant, swept aside by the scandal that has since overwhelmed the build-up to Europe’s show-piece club competition.
While Saracens have received no punishment in Europe, the knock-on effects of their pending points deduction in the Premiership will be felt. Director of rugby Mark McCall has already indicated that should the 35-point deduction be upheld, as most expect it to be, then Saracens will focus on their domestic campaign, perhaps sacrificing their chances in this competition in order to avoid relegation.
How exactly such intentions will manifest themselves specifically are unknown, but if Saracens do look to rotate more, and save their large contingent of internationals for Premiership fixtures, then that will see the tournament’s leading contenders taken off the table. The club has, after all, won three of the last four Champions Cups.
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