Premiership champions Saracens put their off-field troubles behind them for 80 minutes to beat Gloucester 21-12 at Kingsholm on Saturday.

Sarries were this week docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million for breaching salary cap regulations in each of the past three seasons.

The punishments are subject to review, with the club announcing their intention to appeal, and so they came into this match just a point behind Gloucester.

There were reports rival fans would flock to Gloucester to revel in the downfall of the country's best team, who were greeted with jeers as they ran out.

Supporters in the stands could be seen wearing hats reading "-26" - Sarries' points total at kick-off taking the deduction into account.

But while director of rugby Mark McCall told BT Sport ahead of the game the players had been "shocked" by the decision, the visitors gathered themselves to enjoy the better of the early stages.

An opening try, predictably met with boos, was deserved for Nick Tompkins after 25 minutes, although Gloucester responded in impressive fashion through Tom Marshall, who chipped the ball through and dribbled it over the line to dot down.

Manu Vunipola's boot continued to plunder precious points for the champions, while Ben Earl also crossed, meaning the late Gloucester pressure that led to Lewis Ludlow's try counted for little.

The four points secured on the road may bolster a Sarries survival bid if their points deduction stands, but they climb to second for now, with Bristol Bears - fourth and three points back – still to play on Sunday.

Early leaders Northampton Saints came unstuck at bottom club Bath, losing 22-13.

Saints' first defeat of the season came despite a fast start, hampered by Ben Franks and Paul Hill spending time in the sin bin late in the second half, allowing Bath – who had Aled Brew sent off - to score while the visitors were down to 13 men.

Elsewhere, Worcester Warriors won 19-14 at Harlequins in Saturday's other top-flight fixture in England.

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray insists players will not have to be sold in the wake of the club's hefty fine for breaching salary cap rules.

The Premiership champions were hit with a £5.36million fine and docked 35 points after being found to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to players in each of the past three seasons.

Sarries have appealed against the decision and insist they have done nothing wrong, with Wray defending the practice of players engaging in investment or property partnerships with him.

And on Wednesday, Wray declared there would be no knock-on effect on the make-up of the European champions' playing staff at first-team or academy level.

"Just to clarify – no obligation whatsoever to get rid of any players," Wray said in a video posted on the club's Twitter account.

"The academy is a jewel in our crown and has been greatly responsible for half the England side that got to the World Cup final. Seven of those have been with us for between seven and 10 years, almost since they were kids.

"This is what a caring environment and looking after each person does. You have a band of brothers.

"If you think it's about money, you're wrong; it's about caring, it's about love, it's about working together. 

"I'm very proud of all of our players, indeed everybody at Saracens. I'm proud of their achievements and I hope there'll be many, many more achievements – on the field and off."

The London club have come in for significant criticism and on Wednesday there were no Sarries representatives in attendance at the European Champions Cup launch, despite them being the holders.

At that event in Cardiff, Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter suggested Sarries' back-to-back Premiership title wins would be tarnished if their appeal should fail.

The Chiefs were beaten by Saracens in each of the last two finals.

Saracens' back-to-back Premiership title successes will have come via unfair means if their punishment for breaching salary cap rules is upheld, according to Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter. 

The reigning champions of England and Europe have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36million for exceeding the ceiling for payments to players in each of the past three seasons.

Sarries were hit with the sanction following an investigation by Premiership Rugby prompted by revelations several high-profile players had formed investment or property partnerships with club owner Nigel Wray.

The London club are appealing against the verdict and have denied any wrongdoing, but Baxter – whose Chiefs side have lost to Sarries in the final in each of the past two campaigns – believes if that appeal fails, it will tarnish the last two title wins. 

And, while Baxter would "love to" see those Premiership triumphs reassigned to Exeter, he considers that an unlikely outcome. 

"If this is upheld, it's pretty obvious those titles have been won unfairly," Baxter said in Cardiff at the launch of this season's Champions Cup, an event at which Sarries had no representatives. 

"If you're asking me would I like to walk into Sandy Park and see three Premiership trophies there, I would love to.

"In reality do I see that happening? No. There are too many other factors that come into play.

"I believe the way we played in the final last year would have beaten any other team in the Premiership.

"The whole truth is if Saracens had been operating with a different group of players last season they may not have got to the final, and if a different team had been there they might have outperformed us on the day," he continued.

"It would be ridiculous for me to say they were givens. How many results could have been different in the course of a season and the top four could have been created differently.

"Every one of the games, semi-finals and finals would have been different. To sit here and say 'we should have been given the title' is a little bit like a shortcut when the season is what you do as whole."

Chris Robshaw has branded Saracens cheats and says the Premiership and European champions have put rugby union in a "dangerous place" by breaching salary cap regulations.

Sarries were docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million on Tuesday for exceeding the ceiling for payments to players in each of the past three seasons.

The London club were sanctioned after Premiership Rugby launched an investigation following revelations that high-profile players had entered into investment or property partnerships with club owner Nigel Wray.

Sarries will appeal against the verdict and have denied any wrongdoing all along, but former England captain Robshaw says they have tarnished the reputation of the sport.

"It's not great, the game that we loved is in the world eye. The pinnacle of English rugby is illegal," the Harlequins skipper said.

"I think it puts our sport in a very dangerous place. We are a sport that always claimed to be whiter than white, we would look down on football and look down on this and that, we would say how it is, but we are like everyone else.

"Call it what you want. It is cheating. It is not a good situation for our sport to be in. It is not a thing we pride ourselves on.

"When you look at cheating in athletics, when you look at cheating in cycling, when you look at cheating in baseball - for us as a sport, we like to think our sport is cleaner and cleaner than everyone else.

"It is not anymore. It is not. We have to be realistic about that. As a sport we've got to take the damage that comes with that now. I am sure it will be like that for a while. It is not going to be easy for our sport to move forward.

"I know the World Cup didn't finish as we would have liked but look at the high it brought the country. And now we got some damage control to do."

Sarries could also be punished by European Professional Club Rugby after failing to attend a European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup launch in Cardiff on Wednesday.

Beleaguered Saracens could face further sanctions for failing to send a representative to the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup launch on Wednesday.

The European and English champions were on Tuesday docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million for exceeding the ceiling for payments to players in each of the last three seasons.

Sarries were sanctioned after Premiership Rugby launched an investigation following revelations that high-profile players had entered into investment or property partnerships with club owner Nigel Wray.

The London club will appeal against what they described as "heavy-handed sanctions" and may also have to explain to European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) why they were not represented at an event in Cardiff.

An EPCR statement read: "EPCR is disappointed to learn of Saracens' decision to make their club representatives unavailable for today's official 2019/20 season launch of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup in Cardiff.

"EPCR will now consider what action is appropriate in this instance and will be making no further comment at this time."

Exeter were runners-up to Saracens in the last two Premiership seasons and Chiefs chairman Tony Rowe called for the champions to be relegated.

Asked what punishment they should have faced, Rowe told BBC Radio Devon: "Relegation - in professional sport in America, if you're in breach of the salary cap you get thrown out completely."

He added: "We, for a number of years, have suspected they've been infringing the salary cap,

"But I don't think the penalty is severe enough. You take away 35 points this year - they could still be in the semi-finals and could still end up at Twickenham [in the Premiership final]."

Saracens will launch an appeal after the club were left "shocked and disappointed" by being docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million for breaching salary cap regulations.

The Premiership and European champions were ruled to have failed to disclose payments and exceeded the ceiling for payments to players in each of the last three seasons.

An Independent Panel upheld all charges, which were brought following a nine-month Premiership Rugby investigation.

The investigation was launched after it was revealed high-profile Sarries players had entered into investment or property partnerships with club owner Nigel Wray.

The London club, champions of England in four of the last five seasons, have denied any wrongdoing all along and will challenge the sanctions.

A Sarries statement said: "Saracens Rugby club is shocked and disappointed by these heavy-handed sanctions and will launch an appeal against all the disciplinary panel's findings.

"The club is pleased the panel acknowledged it did not deliberately attempt to breach the salary cap and steadfastly maintains that player co-investments do not constitute salary under the regulations.

"This view is supported by independent legal and professional experts.

"The club will continue to vigorously defend this position especially as PRL precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations.

"As previously stated, the club made administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions to PRL and for this we apologise. We are pleased to confirm we now have a robust governance framework in place and this will be overseen by an external counsel to ensure the club follows best practice.

"Furthermore, it is the club’s belief that the panel's narrow interpretation of the regulations is detrimental to player welfare across the league and is damaging the development of elite level rugby in the UK.

"Saracens is proud of its pioneering, innovative approach to player welfare, developing their talents and supporting their entrepreneurial spirit for life beyond rugby."

Owner Wray added in a separate statement: "This is absolutely devastating for everyone associated with this amazing group of players, staff, partners and fans. 

"It has been acknowledged by the Panel that we never deliberately sought to mislead anyone or breach the cap and that's why it feels like the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet. We will appeal all the findings."

Saracens have been docked 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36million for breaching salary cap regulations.

The Premiership and European champions were ruled to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to players in each of the last three seasons.

Premiership Rugby launched an investigation in March after it was revealed that high-profile Sarries players had entered into investment or property partnerships with club owner Nigel Wray.

The London club, champions of England in four of the last five seasons, have insisted all along they are in compliance with rules and salary regulations but now face a huge fine and a battle to avoid relegation.

Saracens have the right to appeal against the sanctions, which will be suspended if they mount a challenge. 

Manu Vunipola kicked a last-gasp penalty to secure a dramatic 16-13 win for Saracens over London Irish at Allianz Park in the Premiership on Saturday.

On a day when cousins Billy and Mako suffered Rugby World Cup final heartache with England, Vunipola was the hero for the reigning champions – but only after he flirted with playing the role of villain.

Mark McCall's side were 8-6 ahead at the break, Alex Lozowski's penalty and a try from Titi Lamositele coming between a pair of three-pointers from the boot of Stephen Myler.

Irish initially turned the tables after the break as Albert Tuisue dotted down at the end of a driving maul and Myler added the extras. 

But, with time running out, Ben Earl forced his way over to tie it up and, though Vunipola was wayward with a twice-taken conversion, he split the posts with a penalty that proved to be the last action of the game.

In the other two games, both Leicester Tigers and Wasps picked up their first wins of the season.

The Tigers dished out a first defeat of the campaign to Gloucester, triumphing 16-13, while Wasps overcame Bath 30-22.

Ben Earl scored a second-half double as Saracens responded to their opening-day defeat with a 24-10 Premiership win at Leicester Tigers on Sunday.

Sarries started the defence of their title by losing at home to Northampton Saints last weekend, but they tamed the Tigers at Welford Road.

The Premiership and European champions were without Ben Spencer after the scrum-half was called up to the England squad ahead of the Rugby World Cup final as a replacement for the injured Willi Heinz.

The London club also lost full-back Alex Goode for up to four months with a pectoral tear this week but showed their strength in depth by outscoring Leicester by three tries to one.

Nick Tompkins rounded off a well-worked move to score the only try of a first half that ended with Mark McCall's men leading 10-3 and Earl ran 30 metres to go under the posts seven minutes after the interval.

Adam Thompstone's intercept try midway through the second half reduced the deficit to seven points, but Earl grabbed his second late on to seal it for Sarries.

Saracens full-back Alex Goode has been ruled out for up to four months due to a pectoral tear.

The European Player of the Year did the damage in Sarries' 27-25 defeat to Northampton Saints in their Premiership opener at Allianz Park last Saturday.

Goode underwent successful surgery and is expected to be out of action until the end of February.

Hooker Kapeli Pifeleti will be sidelined for around 10 weeks after suffering a knee injury against Northampton.

Captain Brad Barritt, Juan Figallo and Mike Rhodes are among the other absentees for the Premiership and European champions when they face Leicester Tigers on Sunday.

James Grayson's late penalty snatched a 27-25 win for Northampton Saints at champions Saracens as Exeter Chiefs started the Premiership season with a narrow win over Harlequins.

Saints led 21-16 at half-time following tries from David Ribbans, Rory Hutchinson and Henry Taylor.

The European Champions Cup holders looked set to edge it when Ben Spencer slotted over his sixth penalty of the match with four minutes remaining, but there was a final twist to the tale.

Grayson stepped up for a shot at goal in the closing stages and made no mistake, sealing Northampton's first away win over Saracens in three years.

Exeter, runners-up last season, got their league campaign under way with a 22-19 success over Quins at Sandy Park.

Jonny Hill scored the Chiefs' only try in the first half and Joe Simmonds booted 17 points as Gabriel Ibitoye's double proved to be in vain.

Worcester Warriors were 24-16 winners over Leicester Tigers, while Gloucester came out on top 18-16 at Sale Sharks.

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