Saracens’ case for their Champions Cup defence fell at La Defense as they were battered yesterday by Racing 92.
As the shadow of their salary-cap cheat storm continues to loom large, the European champions suffered a first continental defeat since April 2018.
And it was their worst for two years, losing by 20 points to a French side delighted to pile more misery on the embattled English.
Saracens reflect on their 30-10 loss to Racing 92 amid a toxic environment at the club
The French side marauded through the weakened Sarries players in Nanterre on Sunday
Teddy Thomas contributed a try as Racing earned a bonus-point win over the English side
Racing were rampant at times and took a bonus-point win thanks to tries from Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas, Finn Russell and Wenceslas Lauret.
All that a patched-up Sarries — who were without seven England World Cup finalists as well as the injured Liam Williams, Alex Goode, Brad Barritt and Michael Rhodes — could manage was Ben Spencer’s penalty and a breakaway try against the run of play from Alex Lozowski.
With a 35-point deduction set to leave Saracens bottom of the Premiership tomorrow morning, when it is likely they will have let the appeal deadline pass, this loss might have some thinking that Mark McCall’s men would throw in the towel on the continent.
But, as ever. they still want to fight on two fronts.
Saracens are stuck in a wage cap cheating scandal and the defeat did little to lift the mood
‘We are not giving up on this competition at all,’ said McCall who has been in charge for all three of Saracens’ previous European Cup wins but has intimated that securing Premiership safety may have to come first.
‘We have got some thinking to do but I expect us to be able to put out strong teams all the time in this competition.’
Asked if the emotional energy of their us-against-the-world mentality had now run out, McCall said: ‘If we had been beaten by 50 points today and we’d thrown the towel in then I think I’d agree.
‘But I think we showed a lot of defiance. We didn’t play very well but we fought for everything.
‘I don’t think anyone could say we didn’t fight or scrap for things.’ Saracens are used to not being liked, and no one outside of their club will have much sympathy regarding their situation, but what they are not accustomed to is being unfancied underdogs.
Fijian centre Virimi Vakatawa went over to pile on the hurt to the English side on Sunday
Or broken in defence so easily. Saracens missed 42 tackles in total, the first glaring one when Maxime Machenaud fed superb Fijian-French centre Vakatawa flat and he went in untouched.
Then Thomas was fortunate to have his try awarded when it looked like his foot strayed into touch after he had seared down the left. Two Machenaud penalties had Racing 15 up at half-time.
After the break, Russell knocked on a bad pass, Nick Tompkins reacted quickly as the French stalled and raced away to feed Lozowski for his try.
Alex Lozowski scored a try but it wasn’t enough for the under-fire Saracens on the night
But then Russell conjured some of his magic to jink through a huge hole and score. And when Lauret finished on the end of a maul it was all over.
Tom Whiteley was sin-binned but Saracens did not concede again when the substitute was off.
The English champions were well beaten but captain for the day Jackson Wray still found pride in the pugnacious spririt. ‘They probably expected us to roll over in the last 20 minutes and have a little parade and throw it about and score some tries,’ said the back-rower.
‘This team showed in that last 20 what it means. This competition is not over for us.
‘It is by no means over. We’ve got some good games coming up, Ospreys and Munster. Who says we can’t go put in a performance, get a bit of function in our set-piece, who knows what might happen?’
Finn Russell pushed the French side back into the lead after a attempted comeback
He insisted Sarries will not be broken by their punishments.
‘I haven’t seen an inch of divide,’ added Wray. ‘Not one. Obviously there were emotional rollercoasters going on last wee but, in terms of player-to-player, player-to-coach, whatever, not one divide, because we’re in everything together, through the good times and the bad times.
‘This is an opportunity for us to come together even more. We will continue to fight.’
Having so far been proven to have cheated in the Premiership, their season at home will be hard.
And, while they have not broken European Cup rules, the sorry mess look sure to engulf the defence of their continental title too.
Juan Imhoff is pegged back as Racing attempted to push home their advantage over Saracens