Maro Itoje has become the latest Saracens star to sign a new contract despite their impending Premiership relegation.

England lock Itoje, 25, joined Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Mako Vunipola and Billy Vunipola by committing his future to the club, though the length of the deal was not disclosed by the reigning European champions.

Sarries will spend the 2020-21 campaign in the Championship after being relegated due to salary cap breaches, but they will still retain a wealth of talent in their squad.

"I'm massively excited to be a part of this club. I've been part of Saracens since I was 14 years old, and we've had some great memories," said Itoje.

"The culture at Saracens is second to none and I think that's evident for everyone to see.

"I'm really looking forward to the future; the future is going to be brighter than our past. The future is in our hands and we have the power to shape our own destiny."

Director of rugby Mark McCall said: "From his early days in our academy, to being part of the club's biggest moments, Maro has been a vital member of the Saracens project and we are thrilled he is committing to Saracens.

"On and off the field, Maro is a diligent, professional and thoughtful individual, who sets the example of what it means to use every opportunity you are given to improve.

"At 25, it is very exciting to think where he can take his game, this team and our club in the future."

The British and Irish Lion, who was named European player of the year in 2016, has made 119 appearances for Saracens since making his debut in 2014.

Eddie Jones has expressed delight at Manu Tuilagi's decision to stay in England and is not concerned that Owen Farrell will be playing in the Championship next season.

Tuilagi this week joined Sale Sharks on a deal until the end of next season after failing to agree terms to remain with Leicester Tigers.

The British and Irish Lion was linked with a move to France or a code swap, options which would have ended his England career.

Jones says the 29-year-old's switch to Sale is great news for the Rugby World Cup runners-up.

The England head coach said: "Manu made up his mind what he was going to do. We had a couple of phone calls, we kept in contact the whole time.

"I gave him a small piece of advice, but he knew what he wanted to do. He's a valuable Test player, his performance in the World Cup and Six Nations indicated there is still more in him and I'm delighted by his decision.

"It's obviously a difficult time for everyone at the moment and we are glad he's made that decision."

Farrell will not be on the move after committing his long-term future to Saracens, who are heading for the second tier due to persistent salary-cap breaches.

It was also revealed that Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Jamie George will stay with Sarries this week and Jones says the European champions’ England contingent will be picked if they are performing well enough.

He said: "I'll be comfortable [picking Saracens players] if they're in good form. Players who have a track record of Test match success, I'll have a pretty good idea of where they are and where they need to be.

"My understanding is most of the younger guys at Saracens are moving to other clubs so they will not have the same issues that the older players have. 

"Without sounding too grandiose, if I look at Owen Farrell it doesn't matter what game he plays I've got a pretty good understanding of where he needs to be."

Owen Farrell has committed his long-term future to Saracens, signing a new deal with the Championship-bound club.

The England captain has been a pivotal part of Sarries' success since coming through the academy, helping them become a dominant force in the Premiership as well as enjoying success in Europe.

However, the three-time Champions Cup winners will be dropping into the second tier for 2020-21 after being punished for breaching salary-cap regulations.

Farrell is the latest big name to confirm he will be staying despite relegation, following on from England team-mates Elliot Daly, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George.

"The club means a lot to me," said Farrell, who toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017. "I've been here a long, long time now and to be sorted going forward is brilliant.

"Most of the senior players are in a similar position. They'd do anything to put us in the best position possible and that was telling during the tough times this year and I'm sure that will be the case going forward as well."

Director of rugby Mark McCall praised Farrell - who made his debut for Saracens in 2008 - for his "relentless" drive. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

"Owen has grown up at Saracens; from a teenager in our academy to a central figure in English rugby," McCall said.

"His drive to improve is relentless, pushing everyone in the organisation – players and staff – to be better every day. Quite simply, Saracens would not be the club it is without Owen.

"Off the field he is a grounded family man, who cares deeply about the club and the people here.

"We are delighted he has committed his long-term future to Saracens."

Elliot Daly is the latest England international to commit his future to Championship-bound Saracens.

Sarries announced on Wednesday that Daly has signed a new three-year contract with the Premiership and European champions, running until 2023.

The 27-year-old utility back joined the London club from Wasps last year and will be staying on despite Sarries' relegation from the Premiership following points deductions for persistently breaching salary-cap regulations.

British and Irish Lion Daly joins the likes of Mako Vunipola and Jamie George in deciding to remain at Allianz Park.

Daly said: "I haven't been here that long but I really feel part of the Saracens family, so it was an easy decision.

"I'm looking forward to the next three years. Hopefully we can do some special things."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "We are thrilled that Elliot has committed his future to the club.

"He has been a pleasure to work with in his short time with us and there is no doubt that he will have a significant role to play in the exciting years that lie ahead.

"Despite his many achievements on the field Elliot remains incredibly modest and is highly respected within the group."

Sean Maitland has signed a new two-year contract with Saracens despite the club's relegation to the Championship.

Premiership and European champions Saracens will play in England's second tier next term following their relegation due to salary cap breaches.

A number of the club's star names have been linked with moves away while the season is suspended due to coronavirus.

One player who will not be leaving is Scotland wing Maitland, with the 31-year-old – who has scored 29 tries in 73 appearances – agreeing to stay on until at least 2022.

Director of rugby Mark McCall said: "Sean has made an outstanding contribution to our club over the last four years both on and off the field.

"He has taken his game to a new level during that time and has had a great influence on some of our younger players.

"To have a player of Sean's quality and experience commit his future to the club is a huge boost."

Maitland's contract follows Manu Vunipola agreeing a new deal on Wednesday.

Saracens have been assured they will be able to complete their European Champions Cup defence even if they are relegated to the Championship first.

The reigning English and European champions will be demoted from the Premiership to the second tier for next term following salary-cap breaches.

The club were deducted 105 points, guaranteeing their relegation, but have continued to progress in the Champions Cup.

The season's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic throws up some difficulties, however, as sport is set to return behind closed doors in England before some other European countries.

The Champions Cup may therefore not be concluded until after the next domestic campaign has started in England, with Saracens by then in the Championship.

But European Professional Club Rugby chairman Simon Halliday insists the team's European challenge will not be impacted.

"Saracens have qualified for the quarter-finals and I'll defend their right to complete the Champions Cup campaign no matter what," Halliday said, quoted in the Mirror.

"As long as we can complete the tournament, they should be allowed to participate for as long as they keep on winning."

Saracens have won the Champions Cup in three of the past four seasons and defeated Leinster in the 2018-19 final.

They will face the Irish province again in the last eight of this term's competition.

Elite sport is gradually returning to our screens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's Bundesliga, the UFC and the NRL were among the first top-level events to forge a route back last month after pausing due to the global crisis.

A clutch of Europe's other top football leagues, cricket, motorsport and the United States' major competitions all have designs on behind-closed-doors resumptions in the near future, too, which could create a significant backlog of crucial fixtures.

One positive is that sports fans might now be treated to a number of colossal match-ups back-to-back on the same day at some point over the coming months.

That prospect gives us the opportunity to reflect on five similar occasions with the greatest sporting days since the turn of the century - including one exactly a year ago.

 

JULY 23, 2000

The US had a day to remember as two of their most prominent stars bolstered their still burgeoning reputations with big victories on foreign soil.

The paths of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have subsequently diverged a little, however.

Woods became the youngest player to complete golf's career grand slam with a record-breaking victory at The Open in 2000, while Armstrong wrapped up a second straight Tour de France title.

The American duo stood at the top of the world, yet history will recall Armstrong's achievements rather differently now he has been stripped of each of his seven successive yellow jerseys for doping.

Woods at least maintained his high standards and held all four major titles after the 2001 Masters, winning again at Augusta as recently as last year.

FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Two more sporting greats shared the same special page in the calendar early in 2004.

It was a long day for anyone who took in both Roger Federer's performance in Melbourne's Australian Open final and Tom Brady's Super Bowl display in Houston, but they were duly rewarded.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer had won just one major before facing down Marat Safin in Australia, also becoming the ATP Tour's top-ranked player for the first time. He stayed at number one for a record-shattering 237 weeks.

Brady similarly then doubled his tally of Super Bowl rings by delivering a second triumph in three years for the Patriots, in what was a classic encounter against the Carolina Panthers.

Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, before Adam Vinatieri's field goal secured a 32-29 win with four seconds remaining.

AUGUST 4-5, 2012

One would struggle to find a greater array of star-studded athletes of various sports than those who congregated in London across the penultimate weekend of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On the Saturday evening, at the Aquatics Centre, swimming prepared to say goodbye to its greatest name. Michael Phelps and the United States won the 4x100m medley, clinching his 18th gold medal in what appeared set to be his final race.

Indeed, Phelps confirmed his retirement following the Games, only to return in predictably dominant fashion in 2016.

Across the city that same night, Team GB athletes were capping a stunning run of medals that would see the day dubbed "Super Saturday". There were six home golds in all, including big wins for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession.

The drama only continued the next day, too, as Andy Murray finally sealed a Wimbledon win over Federer in the tennis event, while Usain Bolt lit up London Stadium in the 100m.

JUNE 1, 2019

It is 12 months to the day since another epic sporting stretch, one that concluded in stunning fashion with one of boxing's great modern upsets.

Rugby union and football each had their respective turns in the spotlight earlier, with Saracens following up their European Champions Cup success - a third in four years - by retaining the Premiership title with victory over Exeter Chiefs.

In Madrid, two more English teams were in action as Liverpool edged past Tottenham in the Champions League final.

But as Sarries and the Reds celebrated, focus turned towards Madison Square Garden where Anthony Joshua was expected to make light work of Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller following a failed drugs test.

The heavyweight title match did not go to script, however, as Ruiz floored Joshua four times and forced a stoppage to claim his belts, albeit only until the rematch where the Briton saved face.

JULY 14, 2019

These crazy spectacles have largely seen sport spread throughout the day, but three sets of eyes were required to keep up with the action on an epic afternoon last July.

With England hosting and then reaching the Cricket World Cup final, the scene-stealing decider fell on the same day as the Wimbledon men's final and the British Grand Prix, ensuring the United Kingdom was the focus of the sporting world.

The cricket started off several hours before either the tennis or the F1 but still managed to outlast its rival events, with Ben Stokes determined to put on a show as England won via a dramatic Super Over at the end of a nine-hour saga against New Zealand.

Novak Djokovic was battling Stokes for attention as he was taken all the way by that man Federer at the All England Club before finally prevailing 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) in the tournament's longest singles final.

The respective classics made the British GP, completed earlier in the day, something of an afterthought - but not for Lewis Hamilton, who claimed a record sixth victory.

Saracens have signed Wales scrum-half Aled Davies on a three-year deal.

Davies' international career appears to be over after he opted to leave the Ospreys to join the European and Premiership champions.

The 27-year-old playmaker will not be able play for his country due to the 60-cap eligibility rule and is instead heading for the Championship after Sarries were consigned to relegation due to salary-cap breaches.

Davies said: "It's a great opportunity for me at a massive club. It's a massive honour to come here and I can't wait to get started.

"It seems like there is a good team and family ethos around the club which is very attractive for me and my family.

"I'm looking forward to putting my stamp on things and making an impact, hopefully."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "Aled is an experienced, talented player and we are delighted to welcome both him and his family to Saracens.

"He is driven to take his game to new levels and we are excited he has chosen to do that at Saracens."

Davies has won 20 caps for Wales, with his last appearance coming against Uruguay in the Rugby World Cup last October.

England lock George Kruis insists he is not kissing goodbye to his international career after securing a move to Japan.

The 30-year-old will leave Saracens to join up with Panasonic Wild Knights later this year, he has confirmed.

He may be ineligible for England selection while playing his club rugby overseas, with coach Eddie Jones usually limited to selecting home-based players.

However, Kruis, capped 45 times by his country, told BBC Radio Five Live: "This is not international retirement."

Former Japan national team coach Jones looks likely to keep the England door open for Kruis, whose move is reportedly an initial one-year switch.

It remains to be seen whether any exception could be made, given Kruis is leaving a Saracens side who will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of this season as punishment for salary-cap breaches.

Quoted by i News, Jones said: "I wish George all the best for his move to Japan. We had some discussions about his club rugby and I think this offers him the opportunity for a different rugby and cultural experience which will allow him to continue to grow and develop as a player and as an individual.

"George is a tough, well-respected member of our [England] team and I respect his decision."

Kruis will be joined in the Wild Knights ranks by 32-year-old Wales international Hadleigh Parkes, another new addition.

Speaking of what lies ahead, Kruis told his new team's website: "I am extremely excited and honoured to take on this new challenge and chapter in my career, joining [coach] Robbie Deans and the team at Panasonic Wild Knights at what is a really exciting time for rugby in Japan, following the tremendous World Cup they hosted last year.

"I'm taking on new challenges in my career. I'm really looking forward to what I can do."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: "We wish George every success in the future. He will always be considered a central figure in everything that has been accomplished at Saracens."

Clubs from English rugby's Premiership have been told they cannot start training for at least two weeks, dealing a blow to hopes of a resumption in July.

Last month it was suggested Premiership clubs were working towards a best-case scenario of the league returning on the weekend of July 3-5 and playing midweek games with the hopes of an August 15 final.

However, Leicester Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy – who will step up to director of rugby in July – suggested teams will first need eight weeks to train.

With the Professional Game Board (PGB) agreeing more time is needed before sessions can safely begin, it appears August is the earliest the season can continue.

Chris Booy, chair of the PGB, said: "A meeting of the Professional Game Board was held which incorporates representatives of the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby, Rugby Players Association and Championship clubs.

"The group agreed that, although a huge amount of work is being undertaken to enable a safe return to training for Premiership clubs, more time was needed to ensure that players, staff and officials can return to a safe training environment, and that is not expected to be in place for a minimum of two weeks.

"Safety and welfare remains of paramount importance to all of us in the rugby community, and we look forward to the season resuming when it is safe to do so.

"Further updates on progress will be made in due course."

May 11 is a day that has contrasting FA Cup final fortunes for each side of the Manchester divide.

While for United it was a day to celebrate in 1996 after Alex Ferguson's men defeated the old enemy Liverpool, for City it was one to forget in 2013 as Wigan Athletic pulled off a huge shock.

Arsenal remember the date fondly as they were crowned champions of England 19 years to the day, while just 12 months ago Saracens were standing tall in Europe in what was a familiar story.

Below we take a look at some of the memorable sporting moments from May 11.


1991 – Golden Graham's Gunners lift league title

For the second time in the space of three seasons, Arsenal were crowned champions of England in the 1990-91 campaign.

Some 13 years before Arsene Wenger's 'Invincibles', George Graham's team lost just once and thumped Coventry City 6-1 in their final game of the season in a hectic campaign.

During the season, Tony Adams was jailed for drink-driving and the Gunners were docked two points for their part in a brawl at Manchester United in October 1990.

1996 – Cantona sinks the 'Spice Boys'

There is little love lost in the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool but in truth the 1996 FA Cup final was a forgettable game.

Eric Cantona settled the clash at Wembley, shooting through a crowd of players in the 85th minute to complete a league and cup double for the Red Devils.

While the action on the pitch did not live long in the memory, the sight of Liverpool's squad arriving in white Armani suits has lasted the test of time.

The funky attire did little to shelve the 'Spice Boys' moniker that had been given to the Liverpool squad by the British press.

2013 – Watson header sees Latics shock City

Seventeen years later and the blue half of Manchester suffered an upset FA Cup final defeat as City were downed 1-0 by Wigan Athletic.

City's expensively assembled cast were the overwhelming favourites having won the same trophy two years previously and been crowned Premier League champions in 2011-12.

But substitute Ben Watson headed home in the first minute of injury time to leave City – who had Pablo Zabaleta sent off six minutes from the end – little time to muster a response.

Just a couple of days later, City sacked boss Roberto Mancini.

2019 – Sarries reign in Europe again

The past few months have been particularly trying for Saracens, who will be relegated from the Premiership over a breach of salary-cap regulations.

But just 12 months ago, Sarries were celebrating a third European Rugby Champions Cup success in the space of four years thanks for a 20-10 triumph over Leinster.

England defence coach John Mitchell expects Saracens duo Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola to make "good decisions" over their futures.

Itoje has been linked with a loan move to Racing 92 and there are no certainties over which club his England team-mate Vunipola will play for next season after Sarries were relegated from the Premiership for breaching salary-cap regulations.

England head coach Eddie Jones is unable to select players based overseas, but Mitchell is confident Itoje and Vunipola will still be available for selection.

The New Zealander said: "I'm sure Eddie, as he is very good at, is guiding them and helping them and they have probably sought his advice.

"They've got family and friends and people within Saracens who they trust. 

"I'm quite confident that they will make good decisions, that are right for them and their families and also that are right in terms of playing Test rugby for England because they are two guys who love playing for England."

Mitchell knows the coaching staff and players must be ready to adapt their methods when rugby union returns after being suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The RFU and our medics are working very closely with the government and it’s important I leave it with them," he added.

"No one knows what the pecking order will be. I guess it's just sensible that non-contact sports will be the creators of the start, I guess, and we'll learn from what we experience and what they go through. When we eventually get the green button then we as a coaching group will need to be ready.

"We're going to have to be creative and innovative around how we do things. A lot of our players are going to be better for this as well because they've had to find a way to train with home constraints.

"We are going to have to find different ways to train based on the distancing."

Saracens have apologised after a group of players including England international Billy Vunipola were pictured breaching social-distancing measures.

Photographs emerged on Thursday of Vunipola, Alex Goode, Nick Isiekwe, Sean Maitland and Josh Ibuanokpe meeting in a close huddle in St Albans.

The United Kingdom government has urged the public to remain at least two metres apart to slow the spread of coronavirus.

A widely reported Sarries statement read: "The club was very disappointed to learn about a small group of Saracens players being sighted together in St Albans.

"The government guidelines on social distancing and public gatherings of more than two people are very clear, and the club has been vigorous in its messaging to all players and staff members about the importance of adhering to these guidelines whilst in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Management has spoken to the players involved, all of whom accept they made an error of judgment and have apologised for any upset they may have caused.

"The club has reminded these players as well as the whole Saracens squad of their responsibilities to themselves and the community around them, and we are confident this will not happen again."

Vunipola was last year formally warned by the club after defending Israel Folau's controversial social media posts that led to the termination of his Rugby Australia contract.

The Premiership season has been paused amid the COVID-19 crisis, but Sarries had already been relegated due to a points deduction.

The reigning Premiership champions and European Champions Cup holders were punished for salary-cap breaches.

Saracens have asked high-earning players and staff members to defer part of their wages, confirming the club will take part in the British government's furlough scheme.

English rugby's Premiership season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and, with lockdown measures still in place across the country, there is no immediate sign of professional sport returning.

Wasps, Worcester and Gloucester have all reduced wages, and now Saracens – who will be relegated to the second tier for next season due to a breach of salary cap regulations – have announced a similar decision.

The current English and European champions also confirmed on Wednesday they would place a number of staff members on furlough. That is the government scheme that offers to pay 80 per cent of wages, up to £2,500 per month, in order to minimise the loss of jobs during the crisis.

Saracens have also requested that players and other members of staff who earn over £75,000 – likely to include England stars Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Elliot Daly – to defer the part of their salaries above that amount.

Saracens said the wages would be paid back over the course of an 18-month period from the start of the 2020-21 season.

"COVID-19 has had huge ramifications on every facet of society and rugby is no different, this is not an easy time for the players and the club alike," Itoje said.

"But in order to see this through, the whole organisation needs to pull together and do what we can for the future of Saracens and our individual careers within the sport."

The Premiership has been suspended for five weeks and the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership Rugby's decision followed new guidance from the United Kingdom government on Monday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings and all "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

"The safety of our fans, players and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery," a Premiership Rugby statement read.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS [the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

The decision to call off the European rugby season was taken during a conference call on Monday.

It means the matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5 will not now go ahead as planned, although organisers hope to rearrange the fixtures for later dates.

In a statement, the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: "While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to complete the 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments at such a time as that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sport's governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.  

"EPCR's priority is the health and welfare of players and club staff, and an update regarding the knockout stages of the tournaments will be communicated to all stakeholders as soon as practicable."

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