| 6.4°C Belfast

Saracens saga exposes rotten side of the game

Nigel Wray

I suppose the tipping point came some time on Sunday evening - I had tuned in to see if Gloucester had defied the odds and were beating Toulouse at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. It was a forlorn hope.

The score at that stage was 28-14 and the French/South Sea Island composite were slowly squeezing the life out of the west country team.

Gloucester were a long way short of depriving Saracens of the last quarter-final slot in the competition. After all the revelations, the cheats would still be able to take their place in the knockout stages in April. Could things get any worse? Well, yes!

Gloucester are coached by the convicted drugs cheat Johan Ackerman, who decided that after 55 minutes his son Ruan had done enough and replaced him with convicted drugs cheat Gerbrandt Grobler. I flipped!

In a season where Aphiwe Dyantyi, the former World Rugby Young Player of the Year, was found to have taken not one but three separate anabolic steroids.

In a season where Rob Howley, assistant coach to Wales and to the Lions, was found guilty of betting on matches where he is the coach of one of the sides playing in a Test match.

In a season where a club side that had been suspected of cheating for the best part of a decade and only laterally got called to account and the scale of their deception and malfeasance wasn't made known - that is a worse scandal than what they were penalised for in the first instance.

The only conclusion that you can infer is that our game is rotten.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

If you have to explain to somebody why something like the salary cap is important, well then there is no point in explaining at all.

When Saracens were eventually rumbled, the breeziness of their conceit and brazen complicity was jaw-dropping. When everything is a lie and your every move is a falsehood, you have no option but to come out swinging.

The mood softened when all in Premiership Rugby Limited demanded further action. Last weekend it was confirmed that Saracens were relegated. This, though, was not sanction - this was escape!

An apology was made to all. The apology predicated by Saracens handlers who deemed it the right thing to do. Not an ounce of remorse in it because if they had been let cheat for another three seasons they would invariably have done so. Remorse implies regret. There is none here.

Can we define a "mistake?" Is a mistake a mistake only when you are caught? Is a mistake only a mistake in hindsight?

Saracens didn't think it was a mistake when they were flagrantly flouting the laws at the time.

Here is an important question - who did not know what was going on? Who would have had suspicions? Who should have had suspicions? The PRL certainly did. The RFU? World Rugby?

Over the weekend some of the explanations from apologists and connected parties gave rise to a further decay in standards when reasoning out their version of what has happened here.

Another line generally trotted out is that this is a problem of the board/chairman's making. This is not the case.

I find it incredibly hard to believe that any of the players did not know what was going on. If the marquee names were being paid £750k-plus, why would they not question how they were being paid? If the contract says £750k, why don't they just pay £750k instead of co-investment schemes, complicated property deals, non-trading company set-ups etc?

If the salary-cap breach was in the region of £3m, it is hard to fathom that none of the players did not know. If the players signed contracts that required payment through unorthodox methods to circumvent the cap, it means they knew exactly what was going on and they are as guilty as former chairman Nigel Wray in this whole matter.

In relation to the option to either show their books and how their players were paid or simply take relegation, it demonstrates internal weakness and decay of an institution. How? Because any union or regulatory body should want to know what level of dishonesty one of their members has engaged in. Right?

By giving them a way out, by simply letting Saracens off the hook, the RFU have further corroded the principles of the game.

Americans take events like this very seriously. After a Senate Committee inquiry into the BALCO Laboratory scandal, former Olympic champion Marion Jones went to jail for lying under oath and making false statements to federal agents. Nothing like a stretch in jail to focus the mind.

I have a feeling that this may find its way into the public domain by another institution. Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) may have an interest in how payments were distributed, how those co-investments worked, whether there was benefit-in-kind paid, whether all of the income given to the players was fully declared.

How is it that Saracens chose relegation straight away rather than divulge how their players were paid?

If the players did not declare all of their earnings, that presents a huge problem for them. Who was responsible for setting up this programme to circumvent the salary cap - agents? Lawyers? Who went along with it?

Do you really think it's all over just because Saracens agreed to be relegated to the Championship?

What about the sponsors? Allianz are a giant insurance, financial services and asset management company. How do they feel about being associated with a team that has financial impropriety at its very core? How can they possibly continue that association?

I scanned the June 2018 accounts for Saracens Ltd. The auditors, Kingstown Smith LLP at that stage, in the independent auditors report stated that: "However, future events or conditions may cause the company to cease to continue as a going concern".

I suspect that these future events arrived last weekend.

There are substantial undertakings and guarantees that have been entered into with an array of creditors. All of this will be difficult enough to contend with - without the possibility of lawsuits and an HMRC audit.

On the front of the auditors' report are the words "discipline, honesty, work rate, humility." Worthless words. As worthless as their apology!

Dyantyi's doping findings are due out in the next few days.

The prospect of getting to the bare bones of the levels of Saracens' deception will never come about if it is left to the supposed guardians of the game. On both cases I expect a whitewash.

Rotten!

Belfast Telegraph