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Neil Francis: I've one word for Saracens - cheats

Tainted success: Sarries lift the European Cup
Tainted success: Sarries lift the European Cup
Owen Farrell

By Neil Francis

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1997 and again in 1998. They had endured a lot of pain before they landed the big prize having lost three blow-out Super Bowls in the late '80s and early '90s.

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In 1997, they suddenly seemed to have a roster packed with talent and real depth. They were led by superstar quarterback John Elway and the equally brilliant running back Terrell Davis.

Denver won convincingly and all was well in the world until the NFL found out that Denver had circumvented the salary cap in biblical fashion.

Elway had received nearly $28m in deferred income. It was paid to him when he retired. That is one hell of an IOU. Elway had graduated from Stanford University - you would hope that one of his alumni from the law faculty there had done the contract.

The cost-benefit analysis? Well, Denver were fined $1m in two separate hearings and deducted a third-round draft pick. Let me get my abacus out!

So you're saying you can flagrantly flout the rules to win back-to-back Super Bowls and it will only cost $2m and a third-round draft pick - give me the night to sleep on that one, will you?

Saracens play Munster in Thomond Park tomorrow. The English side have been spectacularly successful in the last five years; four Premiership titles and three Heineken Cups - but they did so by cheating, on a grand scale.

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Even though a £5.36m fine and a 35-league point deduction could in some quarters be considered draconian, it is up there with the cost benefit analysis of the Broncos.

If Saracens were asked five years ago, 'Would you take four Premierships and three Heineken Cups in that time?' the only response you would have received is, 'Where do we sign?'

The fact that they initially said that they would appeal and then agreed to pay the fine says it all.

They have a life raft of stating that the independent tribunal in their findings said that they did not "deliberately circumvent" the cap but were merely "reckless". In their mind, this almost gives them absolution.

The salary cap is a foundation stone.

There has to be integrity and equality in certain leagues and unfortunately or fortunately that begets rules and regulations because the winner of the league simply cannot come down to who has the richest and most idiotic sugar daddy.

The league dies if the richest team keeps winning it. The competition has to have real competition.

Turkey shoots are bad for business if you cannot afford to buy the best players.

In a saturation era for rugby, foregone conclusions are just another nail in the coffin. Salary caps are important when ambitious businessmen take over rugby clubs.

The season before last, Owen Farrell signed a £3.75m five-year deal with Saracens. He is worth every penny of that. A serious player in every regard.

Whatever else happens, you have to have Farrell in your team. Nobody else in England could afford £750,000 per annum.

Then you also have to have the Vunipola brothers, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, George Kruis - that's a fantastic spine to the side. Buy in Liam Williams and Elliot Daly - why, you not only have half of the England team but half of a Lions team as well.

The problem, though, is that you can only spend £7m on the entire roster. Now that is a little bit of a drawback. How do we get past this inconvenience?

If you don't, you couldn't keep half of those players - because then the top four in the Premiership and the stronger French and Irish sides would easily be able to deal with you, deal with that invulnerable sheen that Saracens exude.

What is the best cost-benefit? Let's cheat! How do we do it? Let's set up companies to 'help' the superior players.

These companies were co-investments with players that were going to cost too much to keep and on that pretence that it was for the next life rather than as a vehicle to circumvent the rules and they were used to make illegal payments to players.

Nobody would cop it. The panel did and rumbled them immediately.

There are a number of questions that have not been satisfactorily answered here - the prime one is if Saracens have accepted their guilt and paid their fine, then why do they still have the exact same roster from the start of the season?

They haven't sold any of their players - how can they do that? Saracens have exceeded the salary cap by over £2m - how are they allowed to still keep all of their players?

If I was Farrell or any of his highly-paid colleagues and someone came to me and said that my salary needed to be cut significantly because we got caught cheating, I would be on the phone to Elway's Stanford pal.

I don't hear any Saracens players moaning about a pay cut. How does that happen? Something has to give! When Saracens' high-value senior players set up their 'co-investment' companies, were they aware of what exactly was going on at the time?

Is the Inland Revenue aware of any of these deals? Is that why Saracens changed their minds and coughed up so quickly?

Is the playing squad guilty too or just the people who circumvented the rules? How many other teams have broken the salary cap in the Premiership, and not won the Heineken Cup or Premiership? It stinks!

I have seen a term in the broadsheets about what they call Saracens' strength in personnel 'expensively-assembled'. We could now say 'illegally-assembled'.

Me? I think the appropriate term is just cheats.

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