England head coach Eddie Jones fears some Saracens players could give the Six Nations a miss to help their embattled club avoid relegation.
This, as the club’s main sponsors Allianz seek talks with the double winners over concerns arising from the club’s salary cap breach.
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray confirmed on Monday that the club have chosen not to appeal against the 35-point deduction and £5.36million fine issued by an independent disciplinary panel, immediately plunging them into a desperate battle for Premiership survival.
Wray takes “full responsibility” for Saracens’ perilous situation a fortnight after being “shocked and disappointed by these heavy-handed sanctions”.
Saracens supplied six starters and two replacements for the recent World Cup final defeat by South Africa and Jones believes a rift may now emerge within his England squad, while some of the European champions’ stars might prioritise Premiership survival over the Six Nations.
“It could have a significant impact. It’s something we need to weigh up and look at very carefully,” he told BBC Sport.
“Obviously there may be some dislocation between Saracens players and the rest of the clubs. That’s a reality and we may have to work to mend those relationships a bit harder.
“There might be some Saracens players who feel like they’ve got to play for their club instead of their country, to make sure they don’t go down. So we’ll weigh all those up as they come about.”
"It could have a significant impact."
England head coach Eddie Jones fears some Saracens players could skip the Six Nations campaign to help their club avoid relegation after a 35-point deduction for salary cap breaches.
— BBC Rugby Union (@bbcrugbyunion) November 18, 2019
Adding to clouds that have gathered in north London are the talks Saracens now face with Allianz, the insurance company which has been their main sponsor since 2012 in a deal which includes naming rights to their home ground.
“Allianz is a long time sponsor but is not a member of any executive or supervisory boards of Saracens,” read a statement.
“The financial decisions taken in relation to the remuneration of the players are taken by the club’s officials and Allianz has played no part in this process.
“At Allianz we act with transparency and integrity and living up to these high standards is very important to us.
“We will be holding discussions with the club to confirm this shared understanding and commitment going forward.”
The maximum possible fine and points deduction were approved for breaches during three seasons up to and including the 2018-19 campaign and follows a nine-month investigation by Premiership Rugby.
The Sport Resolutions panel, chaired by Lord Dyson, upheld all charges after finding that Saracens had failed to disclose payments to players and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three seasons.
Wray revealed the decision not to appeal against the decision was on the grounds that it would be “a costly, time-consuming and destabilising exercise”, adding that it was also important to act for the “good of the game”.
The 71-year-old had previously stated that co-investments with players did not constitute salary and should therefore not count towards the £7million limit.
“I recognise that the arrangements between myself and players, made in good faith, which comprise the material element of the charges, should have been brought to the attention of the salary cap manager for consultation prior to entering into them,” he said.
“It is significant that following extensive investigations the independent panel stated that we have ‘not deliberately sought to circumvent the regulations’, albeit we recognise that some of our actions were considered to be ‘reckless’.”
For the first time since the World Cup, Saracens’ entire squad will on Wednesday gather at the club’s Hertfordshire training ground to discuss the fallout to the biggest scandal in English club rugby history.
Even with the 35-point deduction, which comes into immediate effect to leave them 26 points adrift of 11th-placed Leicester, they are unlikely to be relegated on the strength of their points totals for each of the last three seasons.
But they must now demonstrate how they are acting within the salary cap regulations for the existing campaign having been in breach since 2016.
“We can confirm that we are complying strictly with the salary cap regulations in the current season and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard,” said Wray.
“We will shortly introduce robust independent governance measures acceptable to all, including the appointment to the Saracens board of a director, who will oversee a new governance regime.”