Chris Robshaw has launched a stinging attack on ‘cheating’ Saracens, saying that their breach of the salary cap has put rugby ‘in a very dangerous place’.
Responding to Tuesday’s extraordinary judgment against Saracens – which slapped them with a 35-point penalty and £5.3million fine for breaching the cap in the last three seasons – Robshaw said: ‘Call it what you want. It is cheating.’
The ex-England captain, who is currently skipper for Harlequins, was speaking at the launch of the European Champions Cup, where Saracens’s director of rugby Mark McCall and captain Brad Barritt were a no-show.
Chris Robshaw has blasted Saracens after they breached the salary cap regulations
He also likened the situation to the scandals that have tarnished athletics and cycling, and warned that rugby would be damaged and would find it difficult to ‘move forward’.
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs’s head coach Rob Baxter was heavily critical of Saracens’s response that the sanctions were ‘heavy-handed’ and that they would appeal.
Echoing the views of his chairman Tony Rowe, who wants Saracens to be thrown out of the Premiership, Baxter said Saracens’s approach suggested that they ‘want to continue making payments outside the salary cap’.
However, he appeared to voice a slight sense of relief at the issue now firmly in the spotlight, saying that the ‘elephant is finally out in the open instead of being in the corner of the room’.
Saracens could face punishment from EPCR for not attending the launch event in Cardiff, having committed McCall and Barritt to represent the club.
On Tuesday, the Premiership giants were slapped with a 35-point penalty and £5.3million fine
Their decision to anger the organisers is particularly surprising given that EPCR were quick to point out in light of the judgment that Saracens would retain their European titles and their status in this year’s competition was not in question because the salary cap is a Premiership rule.
Despite their absence, the topic of Saracens’s punishment was still a hot topic at the event in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
Robshaw said: ‘It’s been one of those things where unfortunately years and years ago a lot of clubs took a pay out to be quiet about the incident.
‘And now it is one of those things that has been spoken about for a long time amongst players and the wider public. ‘We look at their squad and it is a big squad of international players. I don’t think you have to be a genius to work one of these things out. It looks like it is starting to be dealt with and hopefully it is going in the right direction.
‘Hopefully we can get back to a level playing field. Because that is what the salary cap is about, isn’t it? Making sure everyone has a chance, everyone has the same level and we can compete and we have a competitive league.
‘It is not great the game that we loved is in the world eye. The pinnacle of English rugby is illegal.
Saracens’ Mark McCall failed to show up to the launch of the European Champions Cup
I think it puts our sport in a very dangerous place. We are a sport that always claimed to be whiter than white, we would look down on football and look down on this and that, we would say how it is but we are like everyone else.
‘Call it what you want. It is cheating. It is not a good situation for our sport to be in. It is not a thing we pride ourselves on.
‘When you look at cheating in athletics, when you look at cheating in cycling, when you look at cheating in baseball – for us as a sport we like to think our sport is cleaner and cleaner than everyone else.
‘It is not anymore. It is not. We have to be realistic about that. As a sport we got to take the damage that comes with that now. I am sure it will be like that for a while. It is not going to be easy for our sport to move forward.
‘I know the World Cup didn’t finish as we would have liked but look at the high it brought the country. And now we got some damage control to do.’
Meanwhile, Baxter said: ‘If your first response is “Ah yes, but these payments, investments, whatever they are, are outside the cap, but they are okay because the wording of the cap doesn’t catch them”, well straight away, I think your concern is going to be: “So what are you going to do, you are going to move on from this by finding another way of doing it that’s outside the wording of the salary cap”.
Exeter Chiefs’s head coach Rob Baxter was also heavily critical of Saracens on Wednesday
‘You are effectively asking for a review of this decision. So what are you saying? You want to continue to making payments outside the salary cap.’You have got to do something here that will make people go “Well that is not what we are supposed to be doing, we are not supposed to be trying to find loopholes and ways out of it. We are supposed to be finding ways where we all work within in for a bit of competition”.
‘I don’t feel any more uncomfortable playing against them now than I have ever done before. There can’t be many people within rugby circles who don’t think that the elephant is finally out in the open instead of being in the corner of the room.’
Saracens have not yet lodged their appeal, but appeared set on doing so in light of the judgment. They had 14 days from Monday, when they found out their punishment.
Saracens declined to comment on their decision to pull out of the event.