(Reuters) – Exeter Chiefs coach Rob Baxter has said that if the decision to punish Premiership champions Saracens for breaching salary cap regulations was upheld, then their title triumphs in 2018 and 2019 were illegitimate.
European and English champions Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36 million by the Premiership on Tuesday after being found guilty of breaching salary cap regulations.
Saracens, who said they would appeal the Premiership’s decision, beat 2016-17 champions Exeter in the final in both years.
“If this is upheld, it’s pretty obvious those titles have been won unfairly,” Baxter said at the Champions Cup launch in Cardiff on Wednesday.
“If you’re asking me would I like to walk into Sandy Park and see three Premiership trophies there, I would love to.
“I believe the way we played in the final last year would have beaten any other team in the Premiership… The whole truth is if Saracens had been operating with a different group of players last season, they may not have got to the final.”
Baxter also said that clubs should not be looking for loopholes in the salary cap regulations.
“We’re supposed to be working within the salary cap to create a level of fairness and competition,” he added. “You shouldn’t be paying outside the salary cap. And to dress it up in player welfare and developing the game sticks in the craw.
“If the first response is to say the payments… are outside the cap but are OK because the wording of the cap doesn’t catch them, the concern is they will move on by finding another way of doing it outside the wording of the salary cap.”
Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw said it was nothing short of “cheating” and that rugby could no longer point fingers at other sports for their deficiencies.
“As a sport we often look down our nose at other sports and say our grass is greener,” Robshaw said. “We’re often easy to criticise football and athletics about cheating. Now we’re exactly the same.
“The sport’s in a dark place… our most successful team in the last three years or longer has been known to be cheating when we’re trying to compete on a level playing field. Our grass is no longer greener.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Saracens’ representatives pulled out of the season launch of the Champions Cup, prompting European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) to consider taking action against the English Premiership club.
“EPCR is disappointed to learn of Saracens’ decision to make their club representatives unavailable for today’s official 2019/20 Season Launch of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup in Cardiff,” Champions Cup organisers EPCR said in a statement.
“EPCR will now consider what action is appropriate in this instance and will be making no further comment at this time.”
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Gareth Jones and Christian Radnedge)