Friday 15 November 2019

Chris Robshaw blasts 'cheating' Saracens as more punishment looms following no-show for Champions Cup launch

Alex Goode (l) and Saracens’ Alex Lozowski celebrate winning the Champions Cup last May. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Alex Goode (l) and Saracens’ Alex Lozowski celebrate winning the Champions Cup last May. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Cian Tracey in Cardiff

Saracens are in line to receive further punishment after they failed to show up for today's Champions Cup launch in Cardiff.

The club has been slapped with a 35-point deduction as well as a £5.36million fine for breaching salary cap regulations over three years.

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Under EPCR's (European Rugby Champions Cup) participation agreement, all clubs competing in both European competitions are obliged to attend the event.

All other six English clubs as well as eight PRO14 clubs were present at this morning's event at the Principality Stadium.

Saracens' no-show left a sour taste, not only because they are current champions, but because they avoided being asked the hard questions surrounding their breaking of the salary cap.

The club's Premiership rivals have come out in strong support of the punishment and it now remains to be seen if EPCR will add further misery to Sarries' plight.

"EPCR is disappointed to learn of Saracens’ decision to make their club representatives unavailable for today’s official 2019/20 Season Launch of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup in Cardiff," an official statement read.

"EPCR will now consider what action is appropriate in this instance and will be making no further comment at this time."

Former England captain and current Harlequins skipper Chris Robshaw was extremely critical of Saracens and slammed the club.

"It’s been one of those things where unfortunately years and years ago, I think a lot of clubs took a pay out to be quiet about the incident," Robshaw said. 

Former England captain Chris Robshaw

"And now it is one of those things that has been spoken about for a long time amongst players and the wider public.

"We look at their squad and it is a big squad of international players. I don’t think you have to be a genius to work one of these things out. It looks like it is starting to be dealt with and hopefully it is going in the right direction.

"Hopefully we can get back to a level playing field. Because that is what the salary cap is about, isn’t it? Making sure everyone has a chance, everyone has the same level and we can compete and we have a competitive league.

"It is not great the game that we loved is in the world eye. The pinnacle of English rugby is illegal.

"I think it puts our sport in a very dangerous place. We are a sport that always claimed to be whiter than white, we would look down on football and look down on this and that, we would say how it is but we are like everyone else.

"Call it what you want. It is cheating. It is not a good situation for our sport to be in. It is not a thing we pride ourselves on.

"When you look at cheating in athletics, when you look at cheating in cycling, when you look at cheating in baseball – for us as a sport we like to think our sport is cleaner and cleaner than everyone else.

"It is not anymore. It is not. We have to be realistic about that. As a sport we got to take the damage that comes with that now. I am sure it will be like that for a while. It is not going to be easy for our sport to move forward.

"I know the World Cup didn’t finish as we would have liked but look at the high it brought the country. And now we got some damage control to do."

Rob Baxter. Photo: Simon Galloway/PA Wire

Given they have been Saracens' main rivals for the last few years, Exeter have been damaged by the salary cap being broken and the Chiefs' head coach Rob Baxter was not surprised to see Sarries punished.

"I think the big concern is that, even now, Saracens' argument for what they have done is whatever they have done, they believe is okay because it's not captured by salary cap regulations," Baxter said.

"I think the concern is, if that is your first response to the what's happened, what you are basically saying is, we are not actually abiding by the fundamental basic principles of the salary cap, which is what we are supposed to be aiming to work within to create a level of fairness and competition in the competition.

"That is what we are supposed to have signed up to agree to.

"If your first response is 'Ah yes, but these payments, investments, whatever they are, are outside the cap, but they are okay because the wording of the cap doesn't catch them.'

"Well straight away, I think your concern is going to be: So what are you going to do, you are going to move on from this by finding another way of doing it that's outside the wording of the salary cap.

"You are effectively asking for a review of this decision.

"So what are you saying? You want to continue to making payments outside the salary cap.

"You have got to do something here that will make people go 'Well that is not what we are supposed to be doing.'

"We are not supposed to be trying to find loopholes and ways out of it. We are supposed to be finding ways where we all work within in for a bit of competition.

"I don't feel any more uncomfortable playing against them now than I have ever done before.

"There can't be many people within rugby circles who don't think that the elephant is finally out in the open instead of being in the corner of the room."

Steve Diamond of Sale Sharls (Getty)

Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond echoed Robshaw and Baxter's sentiments by adding:

"Forget the severity of the sanction. If anyone was found to be flaunting the regs then you can’t piss about and give them a 20 grand fine, it’s got to be substantial to stop people doing it.

"I’m only reading what you lot have done. I’ve not seen any judgment. The thing that disturbed me was that it’s three years in the making.

Former England captain Chris Robshaw
Former England captain Chris Robshaw

"If you’re in normal life and you commit a crime and you commit the same crime, well the judge has to give you a severe bollocking.

"They’ve got a right to appeal and if they haven’t done what’s been said, then fine."

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