Saracens players and staff were “shocked and stunned” after their relegation from the Premiership at the end of the season was confirmed, says director of rugby Mark McCall.
The defending champions were told on Saturday they would be relegated for persistent salary cap breaches.
They had already been deducted 35 points and fined £5.4m for three seasons’ spending above the cap.
“Everybody was shocked and stunned,” McCall told BBC Sport.
Sarries, who have won four Premiership titles in the past five years, received a further sanction after failing to prove immediate compliance with the salary cap and will fulfil their remaining fixtures before dropping to the Championship for the 2020-21 season.
They beat Racing 92 27-24 on Sunday and secured their spot in the Champions Cup quarter-finals after Gloucester lost to Toulouse. It was Sarries’ first match since the announcement and the result keeps alive their hopes of defending their European crown.
McCall said the club had been “rightly punished” for “big mistakes” but that there was still “shock and sadness” at the decision by Premiership Rugby (PRL).
“When we got the original decision at the start of November, 35 point and a fine, it seemed quite severe,” he said.
“Then the goalposts have changed again. Of course there is shock and sadness. Sadness more than anything else.”
When asked why the goalposts had changed, McCall said: “You should ask that question to somebody else in our organisation, in PRL as well. My remit in the club is to get on with the rugby.”
McCall added the club now have “clarity” and can plan for the future.
“Clearly the club have made some mistakes, and big mistakes, and they have been rightly punished for those mistakes,” he said.
“We have got to accept that and learn from that and start the planning of how to go forwards.”
Relegation calls into question the futures of the club’s international stars, such as England players Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje.
Sarries need to trim their wage bill and will no longer be competing in elite competition, both domestically and continentally, with the club set to not be allowed to compete in next season’s Champions Cup even if they defend their title.
The Rugby Football Union has confirmed that Championship players will be eligible for England duty, but Saracens stars could seek season-long loan moves or permanent deals elsewhere.
McCall said it was “too early” to talk about what will happen to the senior players and the club will meet with them to work out their futures, but that he intends to stay on to work with the younger players.
“We have the opportunity now to reflect and review and start to plan our future,” he added.
“I very much hope to be a part of that future.”
Itoje said that “being at Saracens means a lot” to him.
“The club is a great club,” he said. “I love this club and especially with the week we’ve had it was nice to get a positive result against Racing.
“We want to win the Champions Cup and we’re one step closer to that.”
After the relegation was confirmed, Exeter Chiefs chief executive Tony Rowe told BBC Radio Devon that Saracens were given a choice between Premiership Rugby doing “a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on” or accept relegation.
In a statement on Sunday, Saracens said they “accepted” relegation and “unreservedly apologise for the mistakes made” and want to “rebuild confidence and trust” moving forward.
When asked if Saracens should keep their titles, Rowe said: “I’m not sure about that, there is still some more to come out and I’m not privy to talk about that at the moment.”
McCall was asked if the club’s four domestic and three European titles in the past five years were now tainted and said: “Things are never black and white.
“Those of us who have been here for the 10 years, they know what went into that success.
“But no-one wants to listen to that and we understand that. It’s not all black and white.”
Article courtesy of BBC Sport