Saracens cast a dark cloud over Champions Cup
NORMALLY when the Heineken European Cup kicks off, the big guns for every team are out in force. There is no resting players, it’s full-metal jacket from the first game.
Not in a World Cup year. Otherwise Glasgow Warriors would be facing two of the stars of that tournament, Faf de Klerk and Tom Curry, at lunchtime today.
Their respective efforts for South Africa and England in the final mean they are rested for today’s game at Scotstoun and this is true for several teams starting their Euro campaigns this weekend.
The tournament starts under a slight cloud after what has happened to defending champions Saracens in the last week. The docking of 35 points and a £5million fine for breaching elements of the Premiership salary cap means their focus is, currently, on the league and not defending the European crown won in Newcastle in May. It is a complex situation that has many levels and different people have different views on what has and has not happened.
The supportive argument is that what Saracens did, with owner Nigel Wray co-investing in some of the big-salaried players, is a sign of how much the club cares about the players and how they are focused on making each player ready for life after rugby.
As someone who has made that transition, this is an admirable intention and there is no doubt Saracens really do look after and care for their players. But, and it is a huge but, this needs to be done within the salary-cap regulations.
There are clear guidelines that state what constitutes being part of the overall salary cap, and this is where the issue lies. Saracens believe what they have done for the past three years is legal. An independent committee has seen it very differently and found them guilty of a breach.
Why is this relevant to Glasgow Warriors? Well, the Scotstoun side have only ever qualified twice for the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup and both times they played Saracens, losing both games.
The salary-cap breach has shone a light on how Saracens were able to have such a strong squad of players — many of them key internationals and, hence, on big salaries — but also on how much depth they had in the squad. It never seemed to add up and there have been rumours for years that something was going on.
The European quarter-finals always take place a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the Six Nations. Without such a deep squad, Saracens might have had to play their big players in the ensuing league matches, increasing the risk of injuries. Maybe Glasgow would have found themselves facing a weakened Saracens team in those circumstances.
As it was, on both occasions, the international players had been rested and were fresh for the big European knockout matches and were way too good for Glasgow. Would the Warriors have fared any better if Sarries hadn’t had such a strong squad? Possibly, but we’ll never know the answer to that.
That aside, the goal for Glasgow will be to repeat what they did last year and reach the last eight. It’s a hard group, especially with two English teams in Sale and Exeter.
It’s positive to start with a home game as this can create momentum and lead you nicely into the next game the following week.
There is always a formula to qualify and that is win your home games first and then pick up at least one away win. Glasgow can be a match for anyone at home and the prospect of travelling to Sale, Exeter and La Rochelle shouldn’t fill them with dread and fear.
Dave Rennie’s side have had a stuttering start to the season, as you’d expect with so many players away at the World Cup, but they’ve found some form recently. Sale have also had a mixed start but it’s hard to judge their record of ‘won two, lost two’ with so many players missing from all English sides.
There’s real quality in this Sale team but I think Glasgow will win this, their first game of the Euro campaign — setting them up to play Exeter next week against a certain Stuart Hogg.
“There had been rumours that something was going on
Controversy: Nigel Wray