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Saracens' points penalty will affect European title defence - McCall

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By Reuters
Saracens' points penalty will affect European title defence - McCall
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Premiership - Leicester Tigers vs Saracens - Welford Road Stadium, Leicester, Britain - December 24, 2017 Saracens' Director of Rugby Mark McCall Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers/File Photo   -   Copyright  Andrew Boyers(Reuters)

(Reuters) – Saracens may have to put the defence of their Champions Cup on the back-burner while they fight to avoid relegation from the Premiership after they were hit with a 35-point penalty, coach Mark McCall said.

European and English champions Saracens were docked 35 points and also fined 5.36 million pounds ($6.84 million) by the Premiership on Tuesday after being found guilty of breaching salary cap regulations.

Saracens said they would appeal the punishment and, if upheld, it would leave them bottom of the standings with -22 points and in danger of relegation which would put the futures of key players in doubt.

“We have a plan for the worst case scenario which will affect our strategy around the Champions Cup,” McCall told reporters after his side beat Gloucester 21-12 on Saturday.

“If we were to be relegated we need to do some good thinking and some proper planning. There is a Lions tour at the end of next season and we will see. Our job, if the points deduction remains, is to try to stay up and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

McCall said he would have to take a decision on whether England internationals Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola should return to the squad earlier than expected before their opening pool game against Racing 92 in Paris next Sunday.

The four players were a part of Eddie Jones’ England side that finished runners-up to South Africa at the World Cup earlier this month.

“We would have had some big conversations about how they are feeling because it’s unrealistic to think some can come back from five months away and play in a Champions Cup game two weeks after a World Cup final,” McCall added.

“Those conversations are going to be a bit different now. A lot of these players deserve to experience European rugby.”

($1 = 0.7832 pounds)

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)