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.

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.

Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney revealed talks with Eddie Jones over a new deal are "ongoing" but says both parties must be fully committed

The England head coach is contracted until 2021 and the Australian has given little away over whether he is keen to stay on until the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Sweeney expects a decision to be made on Jones' future before too long after he guided England to the Rugby World Cup final in Japan, where they fell short against South Africa. 

"Those conversations are ongoing. Both sides need to want this," Sweeney told BBC Sport.

Jones is enjoying a break over the Christmas period after a busy 2019, with the RFU having held a "very positive" review into England's World Cup campaign.

"We said in Japan we would get back and do a full debrief. We have done that and it was all very positive," Sweeney said.

"We have had a number of conversations already. He is on a Christmas break now and will get back early in the new year.

"We will continue those conversations and make a decision on that fairly soon.

"Both sides need to want this. There is no point one side wanting this and the other not. So we will take it from there."

Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has apologised and opened up on his battle with "demons" after being banned for making 363 bets on rugby over a four-year spell.

On Monday he was handed an 18-month ban for breaching World Rugby's anti-corruption and betting regulations.

The sanction, nine months of which is suspended for two years, followed a three-month investigation by an independent disciplinary panel.

It was discovered that Howley's bets had spanned dates between November 2015 and September 2019, some of which were on Wales games during his time with the team.

Howley has issued a full apology, insisting his sister Karen's death in 2011 had left him in a difficult place.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all those close to me and everyone this has affected, especially the rugby community, close colleagues and above all my family," Howley said in a widely reported statement on Tuesday.

"I am an extremely private man, and unfortunately it was this that kept me silent as I battled my demons following my sister's tragic death.

"The last few months have been immensely tough, and continued help will allow me to find the right path back to rugby which has always been my true passion. 

"I am immensely grateful for the faith and support I've received from everybody close to me."

Backs coach Howley was withdrawn from Wales duty when the WRU learned of a potential breach in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The ban has consequently been backdated to September 16, meaning he will be eligible to return to the sport on June 16, 2020.

Howley wished to make it clear that his good character had been recognised during an investigation which he fully co-operated with.

The 49-year-old added: "I feel it is important for me to reiterate a number of the key facts that were highlighted and proven during the investigation:

"'Mr Howley acknowledged his breach of the regulation at the first available opportunity, that he has demonstrated deep felt and genuine remorse, that he has an exemplary character and an exemplary disciplinary record (both as a player and coach).

"'There was no suggestion of dishonesty or misuse of confidential information involved.

"'The fact that Mr Howley had sought help from a psychologist who had diagnosed that the trigger for Mr Howley's recreational betting had been a family tragedy and that Mr Howley had refrained from betting since his suspension'."

Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has been handed an 18-month ban for breaching World Rugby's anti-corruption and betting regulations.

The sanction, nine months of which is suspended for two years, was announced by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) on Monday following a three-month investigation.

Howley was withdrawn from Wales duty when the WRU learned of a potential breach in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The ban has consequently been backdated to September 16, meaning he will be eligible to return to the sport on June 16, 2020.

An independent disciplinary panel found that Howley placed 363 bets between November 2015 and September 2019, some of which were on Wales games during his time with the team.

Howley used a mobile phone and email address supplied by the WRU to place bets that resulted in losses of approximately £4,000.

During a hearing in Cardiff last week, Howley stated he had not gambled since being stood down and was seeing a psychologist to stop betting.

The 49-year-old can lodge an appeal but must notify the WRU within 14 days of his receipt of the decision.

Warren Gatland believes the knee injury that deprived Wales of Gareth Anscombe was a decisive factor in the country's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa.

Gatland saw a glittering career as Wales coach end in disappointment as they again fell short of World Cup glory in 2019.

Having overseen defeats in the semi-finals in 2011 and quarter-finals in 2015, Gatland guided his side to the last four in Japan, only for them to suffer an agonising 19-16 loss to the Springboks.

Anscombe sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury in Wales' warm-up game with England, and the fly-half's absence was keenly felt by Gatland as they were denied by the eventual champions.

"We gave it everything in that semi-final against South Africa and at 16-16 with 10 minutes to go we were in control of the ball, the momentum had swung our way, I thought we were going to win and get ourselves into a World Cup final," Gatland told WalesOnline.

"It wasn't to be but that's just rugby, it's sport. I was gutted.

"That was the first time that I felt we really missed a player and that was Gareth Anscombe. He was a big loss for us.

"I've loved my time in Wales. The people have been amazing."

Enormous applause around the stadium as Warren Gatland signs off from Wales duty. What a twelve years it's been. #DiolchWarren pic.twitter.com/7z4swrAGw1

— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 1, 2019

"Rhys Patchell did really well for us in a World Cup and Dan [Biggar] was excellent.

"But I just felt that the balance we had with Anscombe and Biggar beforehand, they complemented each other really well. They're different types of players and you're able to use them differently and use your strengths differently.

"It was the first time in my entire coaching career I felt that the loss of one player had a real effect.

"If you lose someone like [Taulupe] Faletau – and we know how good he is – we've got other players who are able to fill the space.

"A fit Faletau at his best would have been significant but there are other quality loose forwards there, so I felt like we could manage that.

"Anscombe is someone that we missed."

Former European Player of the Year Leone Nakarawa has been sacked by Racing 92 after returning two weeks late from the Rugby World Cup, the Top 14 side have announced.

The Fiji international, who claimed European Professional Club Rugby's top individual award in 2018, was scheduled to be back in Racing training on October 28.

However, Nakarawa had an "unjustified absence" until November 12 and missed the European Champions Cup clash with Saracens on November 17, Racing revealed in a statement on Friday.

The club say Nakarawa refused to answer messages and that he had been accused of "abandoning his post" previously, too.

Racing have cancelled the player's contract, stating the action was "essential", and claim his absence "caused a lot of damage".

"This is a deplorable example for the players of Racing 92," the statement read. "His title of the 2018 European Player of the Year should have encouraged him to be exemplary.

"At Racing, the only star is the team, and the individualistic attitude of Leone Nakarawa is inconceivable. It denotes a total lack of team spirit and a characteristic insubordination."

Nakarawa joined Racing in 2016 from Glasgow Warriors, who are now reportedly interested in bringing the lock back to Scotland.

The 31-year-old has 62 caps and featured in each of Fiji's four matches at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi says he was so stunned meeting Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after their Rugby World Cup triumph that he fell off his chair.

Klopp met up with Springboks stars including Kolisi as well as the country's cricket captain Faf du Plessis while visiting Cape Town during the most recent international break.

Kolisi recalled how Klopp spoke with each of the players in turn to congratulate them on their 32-12 defeat of England in the World Cup final in Yokohama on November 2.

The flanker admits meeting the "amazing" coach allowed him to understand why Liverpool players are thriving under his leadership.

Speaking to Sky Sports about South Africa's post-tournament celebrations, Kolisi said: "This was one of the highlights. He's such an amazing human being and I understand why the boys play so hard for him.

"He came and greeted every single person at the table; he came and spoke to me for 40 minutes.

"When I saw him, I fell off my chair! And everyone around me didn't understand. I've got huge respect for him."

The story of Kolisi's rise from an impoverished childhood in post-apartheid South Africa to winning the World Cup as captain of the national team captured huge interest before and during the tournament.

While he admits he never thought such an experience would be possible, the 28-year-old now wants to give back to his country to help those who continue to live in difficulty.

"I even said it to my team-mates: I never dreamed of this in a million years," he said. "But I'm glad that it happened. We all come from different backgrounds as team-mates and now kids can start dreaming about this moment, because we've done it.

"I'd love to hope [that we've changed perceptions] but there is a bit of work to do.

"I don't think I'll ever understand how big it is. It was really tough. Honestly, I wasn't in the worst of circumstances. People are in far worse circumstances. But I had love, support and time given to me by the people that raised me.

"I know we're all celebrating the story, and it's amazing, but kids shouldn't have to go through that. That's why I'm trying to work as hard as I can with some of my team-mates to give back to as many as we can.

"If I can make a difference in somebody else's life… that's the stuff that you want to be remembered for. I knew how much it could mean if we could win, for us as individuals, for the team and for the country."

Kolisi believes director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was a critical part of the Springboks' success, even down to his message before the final about the importance of doing their country proud.

"He's a special human being – I've learned so much from him," Kolisi added. "I've known him since I was a little kid. He's backed me from the beginning. He had a great plan and we all bought into it.

"That's what he told us [that rugby is a privilege] before we warmed up for the final. We know what pressure is: someone dying, something happened to one of your family members or friends, but we had the privilege of putting smiles on people's faces who are going through all that pressure.

"That's what he made us understand before we stepped on that field. We weren't playing for ourselves anymore; we were playing for a nation. Without even knowing it, we touched so many people. When we walked on that field, we knew what we had to do.

"I didn't have to speak – coach spoke, that was it. If that wasn't going to make you ready for the game, you were never going to be ready."

Franco Smith will be at the Italy helm for the 2020 Six Nations as the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) continues its search for a permanent successor to Conor O'Shea.

Irishman O'Shea stepped down last week after over three years in the role, with Italy having failed to advance through a Rugby World Cup pool that included reigning champions New Zealand and eventual winners South Africa.

Wins over Namibia and Canada gave them some cause for cheer, although Italy were denied a meeting with the All Blacks – and therefore any shot at qualifying for the knockout stage – by the untimely arrival of Typhoon Hagibis. 

The FIR confirmed the make-up of the nation's coaching staff for the international window in February to March of next year, with former Springbok Smith leading a team that also includes Giampiero De Carli and Marius Goosen.

Smith, who was most recently with the Cheetahs in Super Rugby, will be out to avoid a fifth consecutive wooden spoon for Italy at the Six Nations.

A new coach is expected to be appointed by July 1.

Rugby World Cup champions South Africa will face Scotland twice and play a one-off match with Georgia in July next year.

The Springboks secured a famous victory over England in a surprisingly one-sided final in Japan last month, Rassie Erasmus' side running out 32-12 winners. 

By contrast, Scotland failed to qualify from their pool after losing to Ireland and Japan.

The European nation will head to South Africa for a pair of fixtures on July 4 and 11, with the Springboks also scheduled to host Georgia the following week.

While South Africa and Scotland have met many times, the Boks have faced Georgia only once – in a pool match at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Georgia won one of their four games in Japan, beating Uruguay 33-7.

The venues and kick-off times for all three games will be confirmed at a later date. 

Rugby Australia (RA) chief executive Raelene Castle said discussions were held with England head coach Eddie Jones before the Wallabies appointed Dave Rennie.

RA confirmed the appointment of New Zealander and Glasgow Warriors boss Rennie as Michael Cheika's replacement on Wednesday.

Cheika vacated his position following Australia's quarter-final defeat to England at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

A return to Australia was touted for Jones, who was sacked by the Wallabies in 2005, but Castle revealed it was too difficult to prise the 59-year-old from England.

"We had discussions with Eddie," she told a news conference for Rennie's appointment midweek.

"But he was contracted to England, and tightly contracted, which ruled him out."

Rennie – a two-time Super Rugby-winning coach with the Chiefs – is the second New Zealander to coach the Wallabies, following in the footsteps of Robbie Deans.

Deans took over in 2007 and he guided Australia to third place at the 2011 World Cup before being axed in 2013.

Having been encouraged to apply for the All Blacks vacancy following Steve Hansen's exit, Rennie told Rugby.com.au: "I'm a proud Kiwi but the big thing is I've been talking to Australia for a lot of months and the All Blacks interest came in late in the piece and by that stage, we'd done a lot of homework, we were really excited about the opportunity to go to Australia and that ended up being an easy decision."

Rennie, who will not arrive until July, added: "I think Australians want their national team coached by an Australian and I'm OK with that.

"Hopefully, they're feeling that way because they care about Aussie rugby and all I can say is everywhere I've gone I've immersed myself in the community and the culture.

"I guess we'll be judged by what we do as opposed to what I say now but I can assure you that I care about he future of Australian rugby, going to work really hard to get a strong connection with the Super Rugby coaches and a national age grade coaches to ensure we've got good young talent through and good pathways for them."

Dave Rennie will become the Wallabies' new head coach, Rugby Australia have confirmed, though he will not start in the role until July 2020.

Rennie, who will complete his commitments with Glasgow Warriors before taking charge next year, has signed a deal running through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 55-year-old New Zealander won back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs before heading to Europe to continue his coaching career, having previously had a spell in charge of the All Blacks' Under-20 team.

His appointment ends the search to find a replacement for Michael Cheika, whose tenure came to an end with Australia's quarter-final defeat to England at this year's World Cup in Japan.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle confirmed Rennie was their preferred candidate, while also announcing director of rugby Scott Johnson will take charge of the national team in the short term.

"This is a massive coup for Australian rugby. Dave Rennie was the clear standout candidate for the job, and we're thrilled to have secured his services," Castle said in a statement.

"Dave's coaching philosophy focuses equally on football and team culture, the key pillars to building sustainable success in any team. He has a proven track record in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.

"Given incumbent head coach Michael Cheika had indicated in early 2019 the possibility that he would not seek re-appointment for the role, we needed to identify a list of candidates that would be available to us, and suitable to work within our new high performance framework. This search has been ongoing for the past six months.

"When Michael then confirmed he would not seek re-appointment following our Rugby World Cup exit, we moved to appoint our preferred candidate."

Dave Rennie will become the Wallabies' new head coach, Rugby Australia have confirmed, though he will not start in the role until July 2020.

Wales have suffered a further injury blow after prop Tomas Francis was ruled out for at least the start of the Six Nations due to shoulder surgery.

Francis hurt his shoulder while playing in the Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat against eventual champions South Africa.

Exeter Chiefs confirmed on Monday the 27-year-old will miss up to four months of action due to a "serious" problem.

That provides an additional selection headache to new Wales head coach Wayne Pivac, with their Six Nations campaign to start on February 1 against Italy and their last match against Scotland taking place on March 14.

They are already without star centre Jonathan Davies for the entire tournament, with fly-half Rhys Patchell also a doubt.

As for Exeter, the Premiership club have signed Argentine Enrique Pieretto due to the injuries to Francis and fellow prop Greg Holmes.

Director of rugby Rob Baxter said: "After two or three scans it became clear that Tom needs an operation to repair the shoulder injury he picked up with Wales at the World Cup.

"It's not great news for us, but at least we know where we stand now."

Jamie Joseph is out of contention to become New Zealand head coach after committing his future to Japan.

The former All Blacks forward was thought to be among the front-runners to replace Steve Hansen, who departed after their Rugby World Cup defence ended in semi-final defeat to England.

However, Joseph joins the likes of Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and John Mitchell in opting not to pursue arguably the most coveted job in world rugby.

Joseph has instead extended his contract with Japan through to December 2023, having guided the Cherry Blossoms to an unprecedented World Cup quarter-final on home soil.

"I have great expectations for rugby in Japan and I'm very honoured that I can lead the team towards the next World Cup," Joseph said via a statement on the Japan Rugby Football Union's official website.

"We achieved the goal of being among the top eight countries in the World Cup, but there are still more issues to be tackled.

"To that end, I chose the path to challenge with the Japanese national team again. I want to strengthen the team."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, Ian Foster - who served as assistant to Hansen - and Glasgow Warriors boss Dave Rennie are thought to be on the shortlist to replace Hansen, who led New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2011 and 2015.

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