Saracens won Premiership titles ‘unfairly’, says Exeter boss Rob Baxter

Saracens won Premiership titles 'unfairly', says Exeter boss Rob Baxter

Rob Baxter has led Exeter to the last four Premiership finals, winning one against Wasps in 2017 and losing the other three to Saracens

Exeter boss Rob Baxter says Saracens will have won their last two titles unfairly if their appeal against breaching salary cap rules fails.

Baxter’s side lost the 2018 and 2019 Premiership finals to the London club.

Sarries are facing the docking of 35 points and a £5.36m fine after an inquiry into business link-ups between chairman Nigel Wray and some players.

“If this is upheld, it’s pretty obvious those titles have been won unfairly,” Exeter’s director of rugby said.

Clubs cannot spend more than £7m on player salaries, although they are allowed two whose salaries do not count towards the cap, and can receive extra money for fielding home-grown players or to pay for injury cover.

It is claimed Saracens avoided the regulations by investing in companies co-owned by Wray and some of their star players, including England captain Owen Farrell and forwards Mako and Billy Vunipola.

“If you’re asking me would I like to walk into Sandy Park and see three Premiership trophies there, I would love to,” Baxter said, at this season’s Champions Cup launch in Cardiff.

“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.”

Exeter have topped the Premiership table in the past two seasons, but both times lost to Saracens in the final at Twickenham

The Chiefs were beaten 37-34 in a thrilling final in June as tries by Wales star Liam Williams, Scotland’s Sean Maitland and England’s Jamie George – who have all toured with the British and Irish lions – helped Saracens peg back a 27-16 deficit with 20 minutes to go.

But Baxter says that to suggest that his side would have won the title but for Saracens’ alleged extra financial muscle is not necessarily the case.

“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.”

‘Elephant in the room now out in the open’

Santiago Cordero scored 10 tries in an 18-month spell at Exeter that ended in the summer

Exeter were forced to let Argentina back Santiago Cordero and home-grown forward Tom Lawday leave the club in the summer as they could not afford to keep them and comply with the salary cap.

And Baxter believes it is right that investments by club officials in firms that are owned or part-owned by players should count towards the cap.

“We’re supposed to be working within the salary cap to create a level of fairness and competition. That’s what we have signed up to and agreed to,” he added.

“If the first response is to say the payments, investments and inducements are outside the cap but are OK because the wording of the cap doesn’t catch them, the concern is they will move on by finding another way of doing it outside the wording of the salary cap.

“You shouldn’t be paying outside the salary cap and to dress it up in player welfare and developing the game sticks in the craw.

“There can’t be many people within rugby circles who don’t think this is just the elephant in the room finally coming out into the open, instead of being in the corner of the room.”

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