Sunday 19 January 2020

Saracens disgrace is very bad news for their Euro rivals


Alex Lozowski
Alex Lozowski

Saracens have a unique selling point.

The Champions of Europe have been the target of venomous vilification and, in some regards, they wouldn't have it any other way.

The groundwork for their success has been built on the type of siege mentality that only Connacht could match.

The Western Province has generated emotion out of being the destination for cast-off characters from Leinster, Munster and Ulster, the Irish after-thought until Pat Lam forged a new identity the only way anyone can, through winning.

In contrast, owner Nigel Wray has always branded Saracens as different, in a better-than-everyone-else way, the luxurious mid-season sunshine breaks posted to show the rest of England how they love to bask in their glory.

But, different can be dangerous.

It can make you a target for those in authority and those with the resources to pound at the truth of your financial mechanism when, truth be known, there could well be other culprits out there doing the same without the pay-off of trophies.

Where is the headline in hunting down the Premiership strugglers or the mid-table mediocre?

No, it is always about going after the biggest, fattest cats.


The Saracens brotherhood has just been given another reason to rage against the machine, to add another layer of solidarity underneath their cloak of camaraderie.

"Teams want to beat us because we are the champions," said their England international Alex Lozowski.

"What has happened this month has made the target on our back a little bigger.

"It is something we can deal with."

The record-breaking fine, north of £5 million, and 35-point deduction are probably going to be bad news for the Irish provinces in Europe.

Take the Premiership. Saracens have been found guilty, pending an appeal, for exceeding the salary cap of £7 million in the last three seasons.

In 2016/2017, they ended the regular season in third place on 77 points behind Wasps and Exeter Chiefs.

Applying the sanction of 35 points, they would have dropped to 42 points, enough for ninth, safe from relegation.

In 2017/2018, they gathered in the same number of points, second to Exeter, which would have left them on 42 points, for ninth place again.

Last season, Sarries were able to accumulate 78 points, second again to Exeter, dropping to 10th were the deduction factored in.

Projecting forward, it is highly unlikely they will be relegated from the Premiership, but also nigh on impossible that they can make the semi-finals.

Therefore, the Champions Cup stands alone as the one trophy within their reach this season.

Saracens financial irregularities have made them vulnerable in the Premiership, but only added to their motivation in Europe.

In addition, the only way they can qualify for next season's elite European competition is to win it outright, for the fourth time in five seasons, joining Leinster and Toulouse at the head of the title table.

Saracens have already indicated they will leave their six World Cup final starters out of the argument with Racing 92 in Paris on Sunday.

This is a reflection of the depth of the squad they have bought and the graduates from the best Academy in England.

After all, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako and Billy Vunipola have only ever played for Saracens, Elliot Daly the odd man out in this regard.

"Ever since I have been here, we have been universally disliked," said Lozowski, signed from London Irish.

"We are proud of what we achieved last season and we are not going to lie down and give the Champions Cup away."

Better again, Saracens will not have to cope with the drain of fighting on two fronts at the business end of the season, although they completed the Champions Cup-Premiership League double last season.

As long as they can negotiate the Pool stage, it should be easier to plot that familiar path to the final in Marseille next May.

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