The Daily Telegraph - Business
Saracens return to mount title charge free from relegation scars
After an enforced year in the Championship and clever use of loan system, McCall’s side are as strong as any in top flight
Saracens have served their punishment for failing to comply with the Premiership’s salarycap regulations. They spent the year in the Championship demolishing their opponents, bar an early-season upset against the
Cornish Pirates, securing their inevitable promotion back to the top flight.
One of the consequences of Saracens’, in the words of Lord Dyson, “reckless” and “flagrant” failure to comply with the rules was the disintegration of their star-studded and unparalleled squad. Or so we thought.
Almost two years on, Saracens have not been torn apart as anticipated. The predicted mass exodus simply did not happen, at least on a permanent basis.
Instead, through the clever use of loan deals and the development of young players in the Championship, Mark McCall’s side return to the Premiership with as strong a team as any in a league where all squads have shrunk due to a reduction in the salary cap.
Two of Saracens’ players in particular have developed considerably since the scandal unfolded. Ben Earl and Max Malins, who both spent time at Bristol Bears, have blossomed into regular England internationals and standout Premiership performers. Malins has added another positional string to his bow, proving he can play not just fly-half and full-back, but on the wing with aplomb, too.
Other notable returning loanees include Nick Isiekwe, Alex Lozowski, Alex Goode and Nick Tompkins (the latter two went back to Saracens before the end of their Championship campaign). That makes
six international players who are back in red and black to add to the England stalwarts and British and Irish Lions who never left.
Isiekwe certainly benefited from his loan spell and could yet force his way back into Eddie Jones’s England plans.
There are positions that Saracens are now weaker in, with scrum-half being the most apparent. Aled Davies, a Wales international himself, is not an equal replacement for both Ben Spencer and Richard Wigglesworth. That being said, Davies’s deputies will be Ivan van Zyl – a 26-year-old six-time Springbok – and Ruben de Haas – the talented South African-born US half-back. Hardly slim pickings for McCall, who extended his time with Saracens to 2025 earlier in the year.
George Kruis, the formidable line-out operator, has not returned, staying in Japan. Will Skelton, who has blossomed even further at La Rochelle, has departed, too. But with England’s best player, Maro Itoje, at the club alongside the everimproving Isiekwe, the second row remains well stocked.
Former Scotland regular Tim Swinson is also in the squad after playing some fabulous rugby in the Championship while Callum Hunter-Hill and Joel Kpoku benefited from increased first-team action last term.
In particular, Saracens have retained remarkable depth in the outside backs. Internationals Elliot Daly, Tompkins, Lozowski and Duncan Taylor remain – and that is excluding Owen Farrell, who could play 12 with Manu Vunipola at fly-half. Dom Morris is also a fine player in his own right.
A comparison of the Saracens senior squad in September 2019 to now does illustrate that the team
built illegitimately has been slightly thinned – but not to the extent one might expect.
The Lions tour taking place so late does mean a significant contingent of the Saracens squad will miss the start of the season. But so will Exeter, with Sam Simmonds, Luke CowanDickie, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Hill all part of the touring party.
And Saracens will not be playing Champions Cup rugby either.
It is apparent Saracens’ relegation
has not set them back long term. They return to the Premiership with a squad destined for at least the play-offs and the envy of coaches around the league.
Are Saracens weaker than in 2019? Marginally. Are they weaker relative to the other sides competing in the league this season? Absolutely not.