Jan 18 (Reuters) - Reigning champions Saracens are to be relegated from English rugby’s top division at the end of the season for breaching salary cap rules, Premiership Rugby announced on Saturday.
Saracens, who had already accepted an initial 35-point deduction, are bottom of the 12-team Premiership table with -7 points despite winning six of their eight games and bagging four bonus points.
British media reports had said on Friday that Saracens were to receive a further 35-point deduction and that the club had accepted the decision.
They were initially sanctioned for breaking the 7-million-pound ($9.11 million) salary cap for three consecutive seasons during which they won the title twice.
Salary caps were introduced in 1999.
“Premiership Rugby is prepared to take strong action to enforce the regulations governing fair competition between our clubs,” Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said in a statement.
“At the conclusion of dialogue with Saracens about their compliance with the salary cap regulations, it has been decided that Saracens will be relegated at the end of this season.”
The club, which has dominated domestically and in Europe in the past five years with four Premiership titles and three European crowns, will play in the Championship next season.
Even if they retain their European Champions Cup crown, they would not be permitted to defend the title next season.
“I acknowledge the club has made errors in the past and we unreservedly apologise for those mistakes,” Neil Golding, who took over from Nigel Wray as Saracens chairman earlier this month, said.
“I and the rest of the board are committed to overseeing stringent new governance measures to ensure regulatory compliance going forward.”
Saracens’s fall from grace will almost certainly have knock-on effects for the club’s internationals.
Six of the club’s players started for England in the World Cup final against South Africa in November, including captain Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje.
This month interim chief executive Edward Griffiths said the Saracens squad could be dismantled for the club to trim the wage bill and comply with salary cap rules this season.
While players playing in the Championship would still be eligible for England, competing below elite level would be far from ideal, although with other leading clubs having already finalised their squads for next season, it could prove complicated to find new employers.
So far only Wales full-back Liam Williams has left the north London club, rejoining Scarlets.
Other Premiership clubs have pushed for Saracens to be punished for their salary excesses, but Exeter chief executive Tony Rowe said it was not a satisfactory conclusion.
“Let’s be very honest about this before people have sympathy with Saracens,” he told BBC Radio Devon. “They had two choices: they could either open up their books so that Premiership Rugby could do a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on, or they could take relegation. It was their choice not to open up.
“Premiership Rugby — all the chairmen — we just want to move on. They have cheated. And I’m just a bit upset it has taken so long to do this.” ($1 = 0.7685 pounds) (Reporting by Peter Hall and Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar)