Sarries scandal exposes complex problem

The Saracens salary-cap scandal has highlighted how maladministration is a global problem, writes former Springbok back STEFAN TERBLANCHE.

It is easy to look in from the outside and give advice on how to handle situations on and off the rugby field. I find myself in that position when I look at Saracens, one of the biggest rugby clubs in England and Europe for the past few years.

I refer to the ‘past few years’ as no one seems to know exactly how long, and to what extent, they have been transgressing the salary cap rules and regulations.

I have listened to podcasts, read many articles and followed this scandal closely on social media, and I am still gobsmacked that a First-World rugby-playing nation with millions of pounds in resources, and the biggest number of registered rugby players (by far), handled this debacle so amateurishly. But here’s my take on it.

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In a nutshell, Saracens bridged the salary cap for I don’t know how many years, got caught, were docked 35 league points (a further 70-point deduction followed in January), and were fined £5.36 million. Ultimately, they have been relegated from the Premiership without even firing a shot or taking the rugby authorities to court.

It makes absolutely no sense at all to me. The thing that made me laugh out loud is that Saracens are allowed to keep the trophies they won during those years in question, as long as they are not openly displayed. Seriously, are they guilty? Have they actually cheated? Or am I the only one too stupid to work out what is going on?

I feel for the players; many of whom will have to leave at the end of the season with relegation a foregone conclusion. Many of them are England internationals with aspirations of continuing to play Test in the next few years.

I don’t see England coach Eddie Jones selecting the likes of Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers and young wunderkind Maro Itoje if they are not playing in the Premiership.

Just imagine those players and many of them will be selected for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa 2021 playing against a team like Cornish Pirates on a cabbage patch one Saturday and then being selected for England to take on the Boks soon after. I just can’t see that happening.

I am not a Saracens supporter, but I am a rugby supporter. What happened at the English club and how they handled the matter may be none of my business, but rugby simply cannot afford scandals like this to take place.

Every Saracens player, current and past, will tell you about Nigel Wray and his passion and investment in the game. The former chairman has now left Saracens and rugby as a sport.

So, even if you question his business principles during his time in charge, he did contribute hugely to the game. If you don’t believe me, ask those players who will now be looking for new clubs next season and potentially get paid half of what they earned the year before.

We often complain about South African Rugby and its administrators. Yet what happened to Saracens is the perfect example of why we need to improve the administration of all rugby before we can truly call it a professional game. It’s a general rugby problem, not just a South African one.

Photo: David Rogers/Getty