Saracens have promised to "come back stronger" after the European champions were relegated in disgrace from the Premiership.

The club who won English top flight and European Champions Cup top honours last season will spend next term in the second-tier Championship, after years of salary cap breaches finally caught up with them.

Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million in November for breaches over each of the past three seasons.

And on Saturday, a second swingeing punishment was announced when Premiership Rugby (PRL), the league's governing body, announced Saracens would be automatically demoted at the end of the current campaign.

The star-studded Saracens squad looks destined to break up, given the unappealing prospect of at least a year in the Championship and no European rugby.

Years of success have come at a high price, and now Saracens have no option but to swallow a bitter pill.

Saracens said in a statement on Sunday: "The board of Saracens wishes to unreservedly apologise for the mistakes made in relation to the salary cap regulations. Our goal is to rebuild confidence and trust."

Former England fly-half Andy Goode claimed on Twitter that the Premiership Rugby ruling against Saracens meant "justice has been served and now we know they have cheated beyond belief".

The club's name will be blackened for many, and their successes - including three Champions Cup wins in the last four years - will be widely considered as tarnished.

The Saracens statement continued: "Following open and frank discussions with PRL, we have accepted the unprecedented measure of automatic relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-2020 season.

"We understand this decision will be difficult for the Saracens family to accept. The board must embody the values of the club, learn from its mistakes so the club can come back stronger.

"It is in the wider interests of the Premiership and English rugby to take this decisive step, to ensure everybody is able once again to focus on the game of rugby, which we all love.

"We hope that we can now start to move forward, begin to restore confidence and over time, rebuild trust with PRL, its stakeholders and the wider rugby community."

The London club are bottom of the Premiership table on minus seven points but have the joint-best record in the division with six wins in eight matches this term.

Six Saracens players started for England in their World Cup final loss to South Africa in November, including national team captain Owen Farrell.

He and international colleagues Elliot Daly, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola may be among those considering their future with the club.

Premiership Rugby recently launched an independent review into the salary cap as a result of the Saracens saga, which will be led by former Treasury minister Lord Myners.

Saracens are facing up to a potential player exodus after the worst-kept secret in the Premiership was confirmed with the announcement the London club are to be relegated for breaching salary-cap regulations.

The London club were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million in November for flouting the rules in each of the past three seasons, and currently sit bottom of the Premiership.

However, after talks between Premiership Rugby and Saracens in the aftermath of the initial punishment, the club will now drop down to the Championship for 2020-21.

It throws up huge doubts over the future of some of the Premiership's biggest names, who have all tasted success with Saracens over the club's recent period of dominance – including a domestic and European double last term.

Six Saracens players started in England's Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa - including captain Owen Farrell - while Vincent Koch featured for the Springboks in that match.

Meanwhile, Liam Williams, a regular for Wales in the tournament, has already started the departures, having agreed to rejoin Scarlets at the end of the season.

Following the news of Saracens' impending relegation to the second tier, we take a look at the star names who seem destined to become available.

Owen Farrell

Sure to be in demand is England skipper Farrell has spent his entire senior career with Saracens, having made his debut aged 17 in 2008, becoming - at the time - the youngest player to appear in an English professional rugby union match. He has gone on to become one of the world's best players, winning the Six Nations twice with England as well as five Premiership titles and three Champions Cups with Saracens.

Maro Itoje

Having won four Premierships and three European Champions Cups at club level by the age of 25, Maro Itoje is expected to be a man in demand. The British and Irish Lion, who plays lock or blindside flanker, should still have his best years ahead of him but is already an established international player, having won two Six Nations trophies and helped England to the World Cup final last year as part of his 34 caps. He has spent his whole professional career at Saracens.

Mako Vunipola

The elder Vunipola brother joined up with Saracens from Bristol in 2011 and has made 110 appearances, scoring 15 tries. He made his England debut in 2012 against Fiji and has been a key player for club and country ever since. 

Billy Vunipola

Two years after his sibling had signed for Saracens, Billy Vunipola followed suit. He has played in 71 Premiership matches for Sarries, with 15 tries to his name and has featured in just 11 defeats. Internationally, he has made 51 Test appearances for England.

Elliot Daly

The versatile back - who has featured in 42 Tests for England - only joined Saracens from Wasps in 2019 ahead of the current Premiership season. He has scored 13 tries for England and one in four Premiership appearances so far for Saracens.

Jamie George

Like Farrell, George came through the ranks at Saracens and made his first-team debut just a year after the England captain. He has made over 150 Premiership appearances for the club, starting 83 times and accumulating 125 points from 25 tries. At 29, it seems unlikely the hooker will be wishing to drop into the Championship.

Vincent Koch

Signed in 2016, Koch has scored three top-flight tries during his time with Saracens, making 48 Premiership appearances in total. The prop did not start for South Africa in November's World Cup showdown in Japan, though came on early in the second half to help the Springboks to a 32-12 victory.

Will Skelton

Former Australia lock Skelton was linked with a move back to the southern hemisphere last year before signing a new deal. He has scored three tries for Saracens since joining, and made 18 Test appearances for the Wallabies between 2014 and 2016.

Ulster secured a European Champions Cup quarter-final spot with a 22-15 defeat of Bath, while Northampton Saints and Glasgow Warriors stayed in the hunt for qualification on Saturday.

Clermont Auvergne sealed top spot in Pool 3 with a 26-19 victory at Harlequins, but Ulster knew a defeat of Bath would see them through as one of three best-placed runners-up.

The Pro14 side got the job done in the second half after the two sides were level at 7-7 at the break, Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison going over to add to a first-half try from Marcell Coetzee before Billy Burns was on target with a penalty.

Tries from Ruaridh McConnochie and Ross Batty, who was later red-carded for a no-arms tackle on John Cooney, were not enough for Bath to end the competition on a high note.

Northampton did all they could to advance as runners-up with a 36-24 victory at Top 14 high-flyers Lyon in Pool 1.

The Saints will go progress if either Saracens or Gloucester fail to pick up maximum points wins on Sunday after Mike Haywood, Teimana Harrison, Cobus Reinach, George Furbank and James Fish touched down in a bonus-point triumph at Matmut Stade de Gerland.

Glasgow must hope defending champions Sarries, whose relegation from the Premiership at the of the season for persistent salary-cap breaches was announced on Saturday, and Gloucester slip up after demolishing Sale Sharks 45-7 in Pool 2.

Leone Nakarawa set the tone early on with one of six Glasgow tries at the AJ Bell Stadium, where Adam Hastings scored 15 points from the tee.

Leinster made it six victories out of six in Pool 1 with an 18-0 defeat of Benetton Treviso, while Sam Simmonds grabbed a double as Pool 2 winners Exeter Chiefs saw off La Rochelle 33-14 at Sandy Park.

Beleaguered Sarries host Racing 92 on the final day of pool matches reeling from the announcement that they will drop of out of the Premiership, while Gloucester travel to Toulouse.

Defending champions Saracens will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-20 season, Premiership Rugby has confirmed.

Sarries, who won the English top flight and the European Champions Cup last season, were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million in November for breaching salary cap regulations in each of the past three seasons.

The London club are bottom of the Premiership table on minus seven points but have the joint-best record in the division with six wins in eight matches this term.

However, after talks between the governing body and Saracens in the aftermath of the latter's initial punishment, it has been decided they will drop down to the Championship for next term.

Recently appointed Saracens chairman Neil Golding said: "I acknowledge the club has made errors in the past and we unreservedly apologise for those mistakes.

"I and the rest of the board are committed to overseeing stringent new governance measures to ensure regulatory compliance going forward."

Premiership Rugby has launched an independent review into the salary cap as a result of the Saracens saga, which will be led by former Treasury minister Lord Myners.

Chief executive Darren Childs said: "Premiership Rugby is prepared to take strong action to enforce the regulations governing fair competition between our clubs.

"At the conclusion of dialogue with Saracens about their compliance with the salary cap regulations, it has been decided that Saracens will be relegated at the end of this season."

Childs added: "The actions that we have taken – dealing with breaches of the current regulations and reviewing the system for the future – will help us to build a stronger league and uphold the confidence of supporters."

Six Saracens players started for England in their World Cup final loss to South Africa in November, including captain Owen Farrell, but a star-studded line-up now looks certain to be broken up.

On Sunday, Sarries face Racing 92 in the Champions Cup, where victory will virtually secure progress to the knockout stages.

Farrell is joined in the starting XV by England colleagues Elliot Daly, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola, and a run in this season's tournament is likely to be a last hurrah for this collective.

Even if they win Europe's top competition for the fourth time in their last five attempts, Saracens' Championship status will mean they are barred from entering next year.

Defending champions Saracens will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-20 season, Premiership Rugby has confirmed.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts has left Bath to sign with South African Super Rugby franchise the Stormers.

British and Irish Lion Roberts, who joined Bath from Harlequins in 2018, moves to Cape Town with immediate effect after the Stormers received the financial support of a corporate partner.

The 33-year-old earned the last of his 94 Wales caps in November 2017 and will also act as a mentor for his new team.

"It has long been a goal of mine to play in the Southern Hemisphere and I cannot think of a better place to do so than in the Western Cape, where people are so passionate about their rugby and also staying in Cape Town which is such an amazing city," said Roberts.

"While I am looking forward to wearing the shirt, my key drive is to perform on the pitch, win week in week out and to help to drive success.

"Having toured South Africa with my school, sevens, club and Wales, then playing in the 2009 British and Irish Lions series as a young player which was a highlight in my career, to spend some time down here and contribute to the fantastic rugby culture will be a special privilege.

"Every time I have been to South Africa, it has always struck me as a beautiful country with rugby at its heart, which reminds me very much of home. It feels very special to be able to come and play rugby in South Africa.

"While I am looking forward to pulling the Stormers jersey on, this will also be a fantastic opportunity for me to help impart some knowledge and insight on the many talented youngsters that we have here."

The Stormers finished bottom of the South Africa Conference last season and begin their 2020 campaign at home to the Hurricanes on February 1.

Bath have replaced Roberts by signing Fiji international and utility back Josh Matavesi from Newcastle Falcons.

Johnny Sexton will be Ireland's captain under Andy Farrell, who has named five uncapped players in his first squad for the Six Nations.

Ex-defence coach Farrell replaced Joe Schmidt as head coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when Ireland suffered a quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand.

Skipper Rory Best retired after that tournament and Farrell has opted to name 88-cap fly-half Sexton as his replacement for the leadership role.

Ulster duo Billy Burns and Tom O'Toole, along with Leinster trio Max Deegan, Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher are the uncapped players in Ireland's squad, which also includes Devin Toner after his World Cup omission.

Those not to make the cut include Rob Kearney, Jordi Murphy and Jack Carty, as well as the injured Joey Carbery.

"We have appointed Johnny as captain for the Six Nations Championship, you can see what it means to him and the enthusiasm he will bring to the role," Farrell said on the Irish Rugby Union's website.

"He has been developing as a leader for a number of years with Ireland, Leinster and the [British and Irish] Lions and he will be a positive voice for the group."

Ireland finished third in the 2019 Six Nations after being beaten by England and eventual winners Wales.

Farrell's first game in charge will come in their Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 1, with Sexton a doubt to play due to a knee injury he sustained last month.

 

Ireland squad: Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Heffernan, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Jack O'Donoghue, Peter O'Mahony, Tom O'Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier; Will Addison, Bundee Aki, Billy Burns, Ross Byrne, Andrew Conway, John Cooney, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.

Teenage wing Louis Rees-Zammit is among five uncapped players in new Wales head coach Wayne Pivac's squad for the Six Nations.

Rees-Zammit has earned rave reviews following his performances for Gloucester and the 18-year-old flyer is set to be unleashed on the international stage.

Prop WillGriff John, second-row Will Rowlands, centre Nick Tompkins and versatile New Zealand-born back Johnny McNicholl will also be hoping to win their first caps for the defending champions.

Lock Seb Davies and wing Jonah Holmes are among the 38 included by Pivac along with fit-again back-row Taulupe Faletau and scrum-half Rhys Webb, who is set to re-join the Ospreys from Toulon.

"We are really excited to be naming our Six Nations squad and kicking the campaign off," said Pivac.

"A lot of time and effort has gone into selecting the squad, all of the coaches have been out and about, seeing players in training, speaking with them and we are pretty excited with the group we have got.

"Looking back to the Barbarians week, that was hugely important for us. We got a lot of 'firsts' out of the way, getting to meet and get in front of the players and having a game together was hugely beneficial.

"We do have a couple of injuries but we flip that into seeing it as an opportunity for some new players to impress, with not only the Six Nations in mind but also longer term and 2023."

 

Wales squad in full:

Forwards: Rhys Carre, Rob Evans, Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Ken Owens, Leon Brown, WillGriff John, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, Aaron Shingler, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Owen Williams, Jarrod Evans, Hadleigh Parkes, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, George North, Josh Adams, Owen Lane, Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonah Holmes, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

Stuart Hogg has been named Scotland captain for the Six Nations and Gregor Townsend has included six uncapped players in his squad for the tournament.

Full-back Hogg will lead his country after Greig Laidlaw announced his retirement from international rugby last month.

As well as appointing a new skipper, head coach Townsend has also brought in some fresh faces following Scotland's failure to advance from their pool at the Rugby World Cup.

Tom Gordon, Kyle Steyn, Ratu Tagive, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining and Alex Craig will be hoping to win their first caps.

Matt Scott and Rory Sutherland have been recalled to a 38-man squad along with Cornell du Preez.

Townsend said: "We've put a bigger emphasis on form as a guide for our selection, with those picked backed to go out and grab their opportunity.

"A number of young players have broken through at their clubs, while the bulk of the squad [23/31] from Japan has been reselected based on some strong individual performances and huge effort throughout our World Cup camp.

"We're on to our next campaign now and it’s going to be very tough given the competition we face. Ireland have only lost one championship game at home in the last five years, and England were in great form in Japan."

Scotland face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in their first match of the Six Nations on February 1.

 

Scotland squad:

Forwards: Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Magnus Bradbury, Fraser Brown, Alex Craig, Luke Crosbie, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Cornell du Preez, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Tom Gordon, Jonny Gray, Nick Haining, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Rory Sutherland, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson.

Backs: Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg (captain), George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland, Byron McGuigan, Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Kyle Steyn, Ratu Tagive.

South Africa scrum-half Cobus Reinach will leave Northampton Saints at the end of the season.

The 29-year-old pivot has been a revelation since arriving at Franklin's Gardens from Super Rugby franchise the Sharks in 2017. 

Reinach, a World Cup winner with the Springboks last year, has decided to move on after three campaigns with Northampton and is reportedly set to join Montpellier.

The pacy playmaker said: "I love playing for Saints and living in Northamptonshire. We have a fantastic group of coaches and staff, and an exciting squad that I believe can challenge for the major honours, so this has not been an easy decision for me to make. 

"I'd like to thank everyone for making the last three seasons so memorable; I'll be sad to leave some great friends and team-mates. 

"Saints will always have a special place in my heart and I look forward to giving everything I've got to make sure we finish the season with some silverware."

Chris Boyd, Saints' director of rugby, said: "While we're disappointed to lose a player of Cobus' quality, we respect that in the final years of his professional career he’s made a decision with the long-term future of his family in mind.

"Saints supporters love watching him play; he has provided them with plenty of memorable moments here at Franklin's Gardens. 

"I've been delighted with the form of Henry Taylor since his arrival at the start of the season, and with the emergence of Connor Tupai from our Academy set-up this year – plus getting Alex Mitchell back from injury in the coming weeks will feel like a new signing for us.

"Cobus is putting all his focus and energy into ensuring that Northampton have as much success as possible for the second half of the season, and we will wish him well after that."

Saints sit second in the Premiership table having won six of their first eight games. 

England have revealed a new-look coaching team to support Eddie Jones heading into the Six Nations.

Simon Amor, formerly head of the England Sevens set-up and brought in as attack coach, and Matt Proudfoot have come into the fold.

Proudfoot, who will work as the forwards coach, was part of Rassie Erasmus' staff during South Africa's Rugby World Cup triumph last year.

The duo will work alongside defence coach John Mitchell and former England international Steve Borthwick, who switches to skills coach.

"The Guinness Six Nations 2020 is a fresh start for the team so that is how we have approached our coaching staff," Jones told the RFU website.

"With Neal Hatley moving to Bath we felt we needed to regenerate the forwards coaching area. Matt Proudfoot has had an outstanding coaching career to date culminating in being a World Cup winning coach with South Africa.

"He brings great technical expertise and knowledge having coached in South Africa and Japan and having played in Scotland and South Africa.

"We feel he can take the forwards to another level and build on the great work Neal and Steve have done over the last four years.

"We have had our eyes on Simon for a while. We used him in the run up to the Rugby World Cup in some of our training camps.

"I have been very impressed with his dynamism, his rugby intellect and he will bring a fresh view on how we build our attack. "

Jones remains in talks to extend his England tenure, with his contract set to expire in 2021.

Italy interim coach Franco Smith has named his first squad as he assesses his options ahead of the Six Nations, with Alberto Sgarbi recalled after a six-year absence.

Smith took charge after Conor O'Shea stepped down following Italy's Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan.

With Italy having taken home the wooden spoon from the last four editions of the Six Nations, former Cheetahs coach Smith has a tough task on his hands.

The most intriguing name in his first squad, which includes 35 players, is Benetton Treviso centre Sgarbi, who last appeared for his country in 2014.

"In the squad we have a mix of experienced and young players who want to establish themselves on the international rugby scene," said Smith, who also named uncapped trio Danilo Fischetti, Niccolo Cannone and Michelangelo Biondelli in his selection.

"Everyone's contribution from the start will be fundamental in order to better prepare for the debut in an increasingly competitive and exciting tournament."

Italy begin this year's Six Nations campaign away to reigning champions Wales on February 1.

Leinster maintained their 100 per cent European Champions Cup record with a 42-14 thrashing of Lyon, while Racing 92 left it late to beat Munster and reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

Last year's runners-up Leinster cemented their spot at the top of Pool 1 with a bonus-point triumph on a day which saw second-placed Northampton Saints produce a comeback to beat Benetton Treviso.

Leinster struggled to shake off Lyon in the first half and only led by seven points at the break, but the Pro14 champions scored 21 points without reply in the second half at the RDS Arena.

Dave Kearney touched down twice, with Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter getting in on the act in a six-try hammering from Leo Cullen's men.

Leinster have now won nine consecutive pool games for the first time in the competition.

Saints made far harder work of a vital 33-20 bonus-point victory over Treviso, the Premiership side having fallen 17-12 behind heading into the final 25 minutes.

The returning Harry Mallinder, back after more than a year out with a knee injury, got the home side up and running with a try inside five minutes.

However, the rest of the first half belonged to the Italians, who were ahead courtesy of Tommaso Benvenuti's smart score following an interception.

Needing a win to keep their visitors at bay in the race for second spot, Northampton finally sprung to life after the interval as Henry Taylor, Francois van Wyk, Fraser Dingwall and Andy Symons all crossed.

Teddy Iribaren's inventive long-range pass to set up a try for Teddy Thomas was an eye-catching highlight from Racing's dramatic 39-22 Pool 4 home win against Munster.

A second try for recalled France wing Thomas late on was followed by scores from the brilliant Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff, seeing Racing through and putting Munster down to third with a decisive clash against Saracens to come in the final round of pool matches.

Saracens kept their European Champions Cup defence alive despite Rhys Carre's early red card at Ospreys, while Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse and Exeter Chiefs booked quarter-final spots.

Prop Carre was shown a straight red card for a shoulder-led tackle on Dan Evans just four minutes in, but the reigning champions went on to claim a crucial 22-15 triumph at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Fly-half Manu Vunipola was successful with his six efforts from the tee, which consisted of five penalties and the conversion of Alex Lewington's try off Richard Wigglesworth's box kick.

Sarries consequently moved up to second in Pool 4 and three points behind Racing 92, who face Munster on Sunday.

A battling 31-31 draw with Glasgow Warriors was sufficient for Exeter to reach the last eight for just the second time in their history, with only the crossbar denying them the win via a 60-yard Stuart Hogg penalty beyond the 80th minute against his former club.

Tommy Seymour touched down in the opening minute as the Warriors surged into an early 14-3 lead, but Matt Kvesic's double helped ensure the Chiefs got a bonus point and progressed as Pool 2 winners.

Second-half tries from Alivereti Raka and George Moala led Clermont from behind to a 29-13 win at home to Ulster, the Top 14 side taking control of Pool 3.

Toulouse guaranteed a last-eight berth by winning 21-7 at Connacht. Jerome Kaino, Julien Marchand and Pita Ahki cross for the visitors, who were reduced to 13 men in the closing stages when Zack Holmes saw red for a dangerous tackle after Yoann Huget was sent to the sin bin.

Gloucester lost Danny Cipriani to injury after 12 minutes but remained in contention to advance as one of the three best runners-up with a 29-6 bonus-point win against Montpellier.

Ben Morgan, Louis Rees-Zammit and Todd Gleave marked their returns to the starting line-up with tries, the latter coming after Paul Willemse was shown a yellow card for collapsing the maul.

La Rochelle bolstered their hopes of progressing in the European Champions Cup with a hard-earned 30-23 victory over Sale Sharks.

The Top 14 side were trailing 16-15 at half-time but then capitalised on indiscipline from Sale, who had Chris Ashton sent to the sin bin and Valery Morozov sent off midway through the second half.

Tries from Geoffrey Doumayrou and Gregory Alldritt turned the match around in the French outfit's favour as they nudged up to second place in Pool Two, ahead of Glasgow Warriors.

In Friday's other encounter, Harlequins claimed the bragging rights over Bath with a 25-19 triumph at The Rec.

Brett Herron's 10 points with the boot proved to be crucial, with his penalty 11 minutes from time helping see out the win after Jackson Willison's try brought Bath within three points.

The victory moves Quins up to third place in Pool Three, though they trail second-placed Clermont by seven points. Bath sit at the foot of the group after five straight defeats.

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