Breach of trust leaves door open for civil ac­tion

Pun­ish­ment sounds a warn­ing to Premier­ship – but some clubs may want to be com­pen­sated

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - AUSTIN HEALEY

The ques­tion is: “What next?” And not just for Sara­cens, but for rugby union in this coun­try. We can start by tak­ing a pos­i­tive out of it, as bleak as this sit­u­a­tion might seem. Sara­cens have in­di­cated that they are go­ing to ap­peal, so – as with any le­gal process – they are not guilty yet. But, if you are an owner, a share­holder or a board mem­ber of a Premier­ship club, you are go­ing to be a lot less likely to want to breach any of these reg­u­la­tions in fu­ture.

That will bring down the av­er­age wage of play­ers in the com­pe­ti­tion, which might not be very good for cur­rent play­ers. But I think it might be bet­ter in the long run and al­low the game to grow.

As I said a while ago, the best way of get­ting around the salary cap is to make ev­ery­thing trans­par­ent – at least among the clubs, if not to the gen­eral pub­lic. That stops agents cre­at­ing a sec­ondary market as well.

Af­ter the 2017 British and Ir­ish Lions tour, Mark Mccall made the point that Sara­cens were strug­gling to keep their homegrown play­ers – Owen Far­rell, Maro Itoje and oth­ers. In real­ity, if you sign up to the rules of a com­pe­ti­tion and then dis­re­gard them, you have to face the con­se­quences. I can­not prove it, but I do not think Sara­cens will have been alone in bend­ing these rules over the past few years, judg­ing by what play­ers are al­legedly be­ing paid. I imag­ine there will be a pur­suit of other clubs. The dam has been bro­ken now, so you might as well go af­ter all of them.

The more neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions be­gin with a ma­jor trust is­sue. Rugby has tra­di­tion­ally been fairly good with trust as a con­cept. But what are the other clubs think­ing?

In 2010, Aus­tralian rugby league side Mel­bourne Storm had two NRL ti­tles stripped for flout­ing the salary cap. Do­ing that to Sara­cens ret­ro­spec­tively would be dif­fi­cult.

You can­not just give Ex­eter Chiefs the fi­nals that they lost against Sara­cens. Look at

Glouces­ter last sea­son. They would have had a home semi-fi­nal with­out Sara­cens. And they had beaten Ex­eter dur­ing the sea­son.

It could be an op­tion to take a name off the tro­phy en­tirely. Ob­vi­ously it is not good for the first Gal­lagher Premier­ship to have no of­fi­cial win­ner.

An­other ar­gu­ment is that it could be more than just Premier­ship Rugby ask­ing Sara­cens for money. If Ex­eter had won both of their fi­nals against Sara­cens in 2018 and 2019, they would be en­ti­tled to as­sume that they would be sell­ing more sea­son tick­ets and that their cor­po­rate rev­enues would have gone up.

That is what would worry me if I was in­volved with Sara­cens. Be­cause they have been in­volved in a breach to such a sub­stan­tial detri­ment of other clubs, could they be at risk of fur­ther civil ac­tion? It is a case of com­pany A cheat­ing laws so that com­pany B is de­prived of money and suc­cess. Should com­pany B let com­pany A get on with it?

I am not so sure. I do not think there is any­thing that stops sub­se­quent ac­tion by third par­ties in the Premier­ship’s share­hold­ers’ agree­ment. That could be a hor­ri­ble out­come.

I imag­ine play­ers from other clubs might be feel­ing the same way ath­letes do af­ter they have been cheated out of an Olympic medal by a ri­val who has been dop­ing. That might sound a bit strong, but I have never lost in a fi­nal to Sara­cens.

A mem­ber of that Ex­eter team who were so dev­as­tated af­ter los­ing in that 37-34 thriller at Twick­en­ham six months ago would prob­a­bly give you a dif­fer­ent an­swer. In Sara­cens’ state­ment, Nigel Wray said that there had been a prece­dent set and that co-in­vested com­pa­nies had not been part of the salary cap. This ap­pears to be their best route out of this mess.

You can al­most un­der­stand the ru­mours that Premier­ship Rugby handed out a mi­nor slap on the wrist a few years ago when the first breach was found.

They were hop­ing that would nip it in the bud, but Sara­cens have wanted to win so much. The club have gone on to do amaz­ing things, but it is all tainted now. Peo­ple will not trust their great­ness and I un­der­stand that point of view.

Sara­cens re­cently opened a high school in Bar­net and there are four val­ues writ­ten out on the front of the build­ing: Dis­ci­pline, hard work, hu­mil­ity and hon­esty. They might need to put a line through the last one af­ter this.

As a club, Sara­cens have prided them­selves on stick­ing to­gether. This whole thing will put that to the test.

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