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."

Sam Simmonds and Olly Woodburn scored doubles as Exeter Chiefs ran in eight tries to obliterate Bath 57-20, sealing their return to the top of the Premiership.

Sale moved into first place on points difference with their emphatic win over London Irish on Friday, but Exeter swiftly returned to the summit with a dominant performance of their own.

They were 36-3 up when number eight Simmonds' second try one minute into the second half was successfully converted.

Bath then touched down three times to make the scoreline more respectable but could not avoid defeat, with Woodburn and Jack Maunder increasing Exeter's margin of victory in the closing stages.

Elsewhere on Saturday, a Saracens team that included Mako Vunipola earned a 24-13 home win over struggling Leicester Tigers thanks to two Alex Lewington tries.

Controversy has surrounded Vunipola, who was stood down by England for their Six Nations match against Wales after returning from Tonga via Hong Kong amid coronavirus fears, even though he has not displayed symptoms.

Ben White ran in Leicester's only try of the match in the second half to put his side ahead, but the momentum changed when Dominic Morris crossed for Sarries just after the visitors had Telusa Veainu sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on.

Wasps claimed a third straight win under Lee Blackett to move above Bath and up to fifth place as they saw off Gloucester at the Ricoh Arena.

The hosts triumphed 39-22, having scored 22 unanswered points in the first 30 minutes. Gloucester have now suffered six consecutive defeats across all competitions.

Mako Vunipola will start for Saracens in their Premiership clash with Leicester Tigers on Saturday after being omitted from England's Six Nations squad to face Wales on "medical grounds".

England stood Vunipola down on the advice of their medical team amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the prop having briefly travelled through Hong Kong en route home from a trip to visit family in Tonga.

Though Vunipola was not placed in self-isolation and had not reported any illness, England felt it was best to leave him away from their "camp-based environment" ahead of Saturday's encounter at Twickenham.

Saracens took a different view, though, explaining that they followed guidance from the health authorities and that neither Mako Vunipola nor his injured brother Billy had "displayed symptoms of the coronavirus" following assessments.

Mako Vunipola will therefore take his place in Saracens' starting XV for the visit of Leicester.

Saracens are bottom of the table due to their 105-point deduction over salary cap breaches while the Tigers are directly above them in 11th, having won just four of their 12 fixtures to date.

Steve Borthwick says Mako Vunipola was stood down on medical advice due to England's 24/7 "camp-based environment" - insisting the prop has not been placed in self-isolation amid the coronavirus outbreak.

England on Tuesday revealed that Vunipola will not feature in the Six Nations clash with Wales at Twickenham on Saturday for "medical reasons".

The British and Irish Lion was ruled out after travelling back from Tonga via Hong Kong, but Saracens on Wednesday stated he had been cleared to play for the Premiership champions against Leicester this weekend.

England assistant coach Borthwick explained that the Rugby World Cup runners-up could not take any risks.

"Our medical team looks at our team environment, not other people's," Borthwick told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"And that's the advice we followed. We are a camp-based environment and we stay in together 24 hours a day effectively.

"Mako didn't come into camp on the advice of our medical team, who looked into the situation closely and as a precaution they advised us that the best thing for our environment was for him not to come in.

"Mako is not ill, he is not in self-isolation, but the advice we got for our environment from our medical team and the relevant parties they consulted was that he should not come into camp, and that's the advice we followed."

Sale Sharks moved up to second in the Premiership with an easy 36-3 win over Leicester Tigers.

Second-bottom Leicester took the lead through Noel Reid's penalty but it was all downhill thereafter.

Marland Yarde's try was sandwiched between efforts from Bryn Evans and Coenie Oosthuizen as Sale took command and the wing scored each of the Sharks' second-half tries to complete his hat-trick.

Wasps routed already-relegated Saracens 60-10 in Friday's other game to go seventh.

Zack Kibirige and Brad Shields crossed for doubles while Jimmy Gopperth tallied 20 points with the boot as Wasps went level with Gloucester on 23 points in the fight for the European Challenge Cup places.

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