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Gordon D’Arcy: There’s more to Saracens’ success than money

The club deserve to be punished but the fallout could adversely affect England

The other Premiership clubs and English rugby in general might end up regretting the sort of justice they have demanded.

When it comes to the public stoning of Saracens that scene in The Life of Brian springs to mind; remember all those male actors wearing fake beards so the Jewish Official (played by John Cleese) and Roman soldiers do not notice they are actually women:

Matthias: “Look, I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying ‘Jehovah.’’

Everyone gasps.


Jewish Official: “You’re only making it worse for yourself!”

Matthias: “Making it worse? How could it be worse? Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!”

Jewish Official: “I’m warning you! If you say ‘Jehovah’ once more . . .”

Jewish Official gets hit with a rock: “Right! Who threw that? Come on, who threw that?”

Stoner women: “‘She did! She...”

Changing voices to sound like men: “‘Him! Him! Him!”

Jewish Official: “Was it you?”

Stoner: “Yes.”

Jewish Official: “Right . . .”

Stoner: ‘Well you did say ‘Jehovah.’’

Crowd stones the stoner.

Jewish Official: “Stop it! Stop! Stop, will you stop that! Now look: no one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle, do you understand? Even – and I want to make this absolutely clear – even if they do say ‘Jehovah.’’

Crowd stones the Jewish Official to death.

How about every club in the Premiership undergoes a forensic examination of their accounts?

Any takers?

We know Saracens opted for relegation rather than opening their books to an independent audit. They have cheated by continually breaching the salary cap, and filled their trophy cabinet as a direct result. There must be a sanction but for how long do rival clubs want to twist the knife?

I understand where the Exeter Chiefs are coming from, having built a squad inside the rules that is competitive on two fronts – domestic and Europe – while generating a profit, only to be directly denied a Premiership title by a Saracens team paying their players outside the salary cap.

English rugby has directly benefited from the success of Saracens, from their coaching standards and the benefit of settled partnerships at club level

But the England squad does not lean as heavily on Exeter as it does on the Saracens stars.

England have predominately done well when one or two super clubs are supplying the national team. See the Leicester and Wasps contingent at the heart of runs to the 2003 and 2007 World Cups finals.

See all the Saracens players in Japan last year.

Salary cap

English rugby has directly benefited from the success of Saracens, from their coaching standards and the benefit of settled partnerships at club level – the lineout – being transferred to the international stage.

The crusade to break up the English and European champions’ squad is being motivated, as I see it, by money. I don’t believe Saracens’ success is purely down to their payment of players. I also don’t believe what they did was acceptable (like everyone else, I’d like to read the Dyson Report to fully understand what occurred with the co-investments).

Saracens are still in breach of the salary cap so that needs to be punished but I feel the whole truth lies somewhere in between their view and the perspective of other Premiership clubs.

We will still be searching around in the dark for answers when the defending champions come to Dublin in April for Part III of an enthralling rivalry with Leinster.

Let’s take a look at Toulon, who as far as I can see are the only modern club to successfully buy success. At what cost? From the outside I hear of a toxic culture, of players not getting paid if they don’t perform and owner Mourad Boudjellal forking out millions of euros every season. This is unsustainable long term as the revolving nature of the squad and club means that there are few ‘club men or women’ for life.

The indigenous squad Toulouse have compiled is miles apart from how Toulon operate. I believe that when Boudjellal stops investing the club will return to the lower leagues in quick time.

I do not believe this will happen to Saracens now Nigel Wray has formally cut ties with the club he built. We already hear Mark McCall and reportedly Owen Farrell talking about the future.

Until six months ago Wray was spoken about in glowing terms both inside and outside the club. Whatever comes from this, he should in equal parts be remembered for the incredible team, people and culture created at Allianz Park.

In the same breath, there is no way of avoiding Wray and Saracens being forever associated with the shocking fall from grace we are witnessing.

Losing players is unavoidable but to what extent could have a massive impact on Eddie Jones's England and Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad

McCall has been instrumental to their success with his coaching, management of the squad and growth of a unique culture. Their academy continues to produce gifted players. I remember Richard Hill mentioning a teenager named Maro Itoje as a future captain of England before any of us saw him play.

Intangible bonds

There is more to this club than money. They have created something that cannot only be achieved from financial investments. I’ve also seen this in Leinster. We’ve see it at Thomond Park too. You cannot force players that are only motivated by money to create intangible bonds on a sporting field, which separate the good from the great and win tight matches that live long in the mind.

The latest example came on Sunday when Saracens beat Racing 92. This was a remarkable victory as the French were hunting a lucrative home quarter-final while attempting to prove they are no longer reliant on mercenaries. Despite losing Billy Vunipola early to a broken arm and Will Skelton to a red card, somehow Sarries found a way to win.

It was a performance that embodied all the positive attributes of the club. Yes, with nine men who featured in the World Cup final on the field, they equally showed how deep their squad goes.

McCall’s roster cannot remain intact. Losing players is unavoidable but to what extent could have a massive impact on Eddie Jones’s England and Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad that tour South Africa in 2021.

Maybe Jones will see the benefit of Farrell being protected, like the IRFU do with Johnny Sexton, by significantly reducing his minutes in the English Championship next season. That’s the marquee player looked after but someone like Jamie George could struggle to retain the England hooker jersey, and a ticket to South Africa, if he’s playing outside the Premiership.

There can never be a dramatic upheaval in Irish rugby. We do not have the resources to discard ageing players

Loyalty – a rare gem in professional sport – will be tested.

This story has many miles to run – the loan loophole used by rivals being the latest twist – but my guess is that Saracens will not be the only club found in breach of the salary cap.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone . . .

Ireland squad
There can never be a dramatic upheaval in Irish rugby. We do not have the resources to discard ageing players but Andy Farrell's Six Nations squad does have an infusion of fresh blood.

The Portugal warm-weather sessions will inform Farrell and his coaches about how close Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird are to taking the next step. We can already see the pressure Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and Jack O’Donoghue are putting on the established backrowers.

Farrell’s brief as Ireland coach remains the same as his predecessors: the Six Nations is how the IRFU generates income to pay everyone’s wages so winning is paramount. That fact must creep into selection conversations when, say, Farrell, John Fogarty and Simon Easterby are discussing whether to start Doris at number eight and put CJ Stander, Pete O’Mahony or even Jack O’Donoghue on the bench to face Scotland.

It impacts Farrell's conversation with Mike Catt and Richie Murphy about going with John Cooney over Conor Murray.

This is a results-driven business so every risk has to be calculated.

Farrell knows that beating Scotland right out the gate is essential.

The challenge for him is to strike a balance between incumbents and form players. The ideal situation is to have a fluid selection in key positions whereby Cooney and Murray bring the best out of each other.

That may mean Cooney starts with Murray given 20 minutes to prove that it was the wrong decision. There is only one way to find out if Cooney and Doris can maintain their brilliant performances at Test level.

Such calls are why I never contemplated coaching as a career option.

Way more fun putting on a fake beard and throwing stones.