Finn Russell Saracens begin European Champions Cup defence in toxic state and with a target on their back

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The off-field backlash for their role in English rugby’s worst-kept secret will have been comfortably swallowed by many at Saracens but the prospect of taking an on-field shellacking will be a far less palatable prospect for Mark McCall’s players.

Ever since the days when former chief executive Edward Griffiths used to dress up as a medieval knight and stand glowering over McCall’s shoulder in press conferences – yes it really happened, I was there – Saracens have been at ease with being different. A bit odd, even.

Even before that, employing snarling snapdragons Eddie Jones and Brendan Venter as head coaches revealed a club which couldn’t give two hoots who their friends on the outside were.

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“No-one likes us, we don’t care,” was a regular refrain for their players. Now, that dislike has turned into outright hostility – feigned or otherwise – in some quarters.

Rumours Saracens have been finding creative ways to side-step the salary cap have been in existence since the financial control was put in place in the late 1990s and reports they were being formally investigated by Premier Rugby for alleged breaches first surfaced back as 2014.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve

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