Saracens have escaped explusion from the Champions Cup but have been fined £42,400 (€50,000) for fielding an ineligible player, prop Titi Lamositele, in against Racing 92 last month.
The troubled English club could have been thrown out of European competition after it emerged that United States international Lamositele’s work permit expired the day before their 27-24 victory over the French side but an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Friday night decided that a financial penalty was sufficient.
Half of the fine – €25,000 – will be suspended until the end of the 2020/21 season in a further boost to the Premiership club. Saracens finished second in their Champions Cup group last month to secure an away quarter-final at Leinster on 4 April. The victory over Racing pushed Glasgow Warriors out of the final quarter-final spot.
Although there is no precedent for this sort of administrative error, French club Grenoble were heavily punished for fielding an ineligible player against London Welsh in the 2012-13 European Challenge Cup. Grenoble, who won the game 20-9, were deducted four match points as London Welsh were awarded a 28-0 victory.
The independent disciplinary committee – which consisted of Roger Morris (Wales), Pamela Woodman (Scotland) and Jean-Noel Couraud (France) – ruled that Saracens had not sought to gain an unfair advantage from the error.
A statement given by the chair of the independent disciplinary committee, Roger Morris, read: “Following careful consideration of a complaint involving a player who has been contracted to Saracens since 2014, and who remains contracted to the club, the committee believes that this was an unfortunate sequence of events brought about by an administrative oversight.
“However, Saracens are in breach of the disciplinary rules of the Champions Cup, and that breach constitutes misconduct which can be proportionately dealt with by way of a financial penalty.”
The misconduct complaint is the latest sorry episode in a nightmare season for Saracens. The English and European champions will be relegated from the Gallagher Premiership at the end of this season over the salary cap scandal.
Saracens were docked 35 league points – and then an additional 70 – and fined £5.36m for salary cap breaches, and will spend next season in the second-tier Championship.
News of Saracens’ continental lifeline emerged at the same time as they were falling to a 28-7 defeat to Sale Sharks in the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-finals.
Afterwards the club’s senior academy coach, Adam Powell, refused to be drawn on the implications of the decision, insisting it had no effect on their latest setback on the pitch.
Powell said: “The hearing was a good result of course, but as far as the lads are concerned and their reaction, they probably don’t even know about it yet.”
Powell admitted his side, who grabbed their only score with 20 minutes remaining through Rotimi Segun, had been up against it.
“It was tough because Sale had a very experienced team out there,” said Powell. “On any given day they are one of the best defensive teams in the league and that was no different here.”