Sara­cens cast a dark cloud over Cham­pi­ons Cup

Scottish Daily Mail - - Rugby - Andy NI­COL writes for Sports­mail

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

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