Saracens Q&A: How stars were caught up in salary cap scandal

Saracens Q&A: How Maro Itoje, Chris Ashton and the Vunipola brothers were caught up in salary cap scandal

  • Full report into Saracens’ breaches of Premiership salary cap has been released
  • Offences in payments to Mako and Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Chris Ashton 
  • Sportsmail answers all of the key questions arising from the investigation 

Saracens’ breaches of the Premiership salary cap have shocked the sporting world and led to the reigning European and domestic champions’ ultimate relegation from the top flight.

The full 103-page report on the investigation in their affair has been released, and demonstrates three consecutive seasons of breaching the cap through a series of payments to players.

With the report now made public, Sportsmail answers the key questions on the scandal and the impact going forward. 

Published report into Saracens’ salary cap breaches identifies payments involving Maro Itoje

BY HOW MUCH DID SARACENS BREACH THE SALARY CAP? 

SO WHY WERE THEY ONLY DEDUCTED 35 POINTS IN NOVEMBER?

It was decided that two charges of 35 points each – based on the 2017 and 2019 breaches – which would have sent Saracens down for sure, would not have been appropriate.

During their Premiership title-winning campaign of 2019, Saracens were £906,000 over cap

BUT THEY ARE NOW GOING TO BE RELEGATED?

Yes. That decision to send Saracens down is not part of the published report. That report only relates to the salary cap breaches in the previous three seasons. 

The understanding is that Saracens took relegation last week because they were going to be over the cap again this year, and did not want a full investigatory audit of their books, or to hand back their titles.

Sarries opted to accept relegation rather than face forensic auditing of the club’s accounts

WHAT DOES ‘RECKLESS’ ACTUALLY MEAN?

Saracens hang their hat on the fact that they were proven to have ‘recklessly’ broken the cap, and it was not ‘deliberate’. 

The definition of ‘reckless’ is ‘failing to give any significant thought as to the risk or possibility of breaching the regulations’ or ‘having recognised there is some risk or possibility, nonetheless deliberately taking a risk of breaching the regulations’.

Former Saracens owner Nigel Wray’s links to investments involving players are highlighted

HOW DID THE BREACHES OCCUR?

2016-17

Involving: Maro Itoje, Billy & Mako Vunipola, Richard Wigglesworth. 

Breach: £1.13m

Explanation: Itoje was paid £95,000 over three years a hospitality company based at Allianz Park – MBN – run by Lucy Wray. Saracens could not provide evidence he attended events. 

As MBN closely aligned to Saracens, it was decided this should count as salary and that the amount Itoje received ‘exceeded the market value of the services that he provides’. Itoje also had £253,000 paid into his co-investment company, the Vunipolas took £450,000 and Wigglesworth £220,000.

Billy Vunipola, alongside brother Mako, was reportedly paid £450,000 outside cap in 2016/17 

2017-18

Involving: Chris Ashton 

Breach: £98,000

Explanation: Ashton paid 80% towards a house worth £1.35m plus £81k stamp duty and other costs. Wray and another director helped with purchase and costs (about £140k) and were 20 per cent stakeholders. Refurbishment cost £234,000 – shared according to percentages. 

These arrangements meant £319,600.76 should have counted as salary – it was a benefit Ashton ‘would not have been able to otherwise obtain’.

In his final months with Saracens, Chris Ashton was involved in a property deal with Wray

2018-19

Involving: Maro Itoje 

Breach: £906,000

Explanation: Wray and two other directors paid £1.6m for a 30% stake in Itoje’s image rights company – based on a PwC valuation. 

The shares were only judged to be worth £800,000 based on a different valuation, and it was decided Saracens overpaid so they could underpay in ‘normal’ salary that they thought would count to the cap. The arrangement was said to be ‘highly unusual in rugby’.




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