Salary cap holding us back, insist Saracens
THE Aviva Premiership suffered a European whitewash at the weekend, with Saracens’ 22-3 defeat to Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals ending all English interest in the Heineken Cup.
Exeter, Harlequins and Wasps were all knocked out of the Amlin Challenge Cup at the hands of French opposition. It was the first time, other than the early years when English clubs boycotted European rugby, that the Premiership had drawn such a blank.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall put the failing down to the gulf in the salary cap between the Premiership and the rest.
“You could almost see the difference in the salary caps as you looked down on the pitch at various times, there is no question about that,” McCall said after watching Clermont Auvergne overpower the Premiership champions.
“The squad they were able to bring is outstanding and the stats don’t lie. It is getting increasingly difficult to get into the quarter-final stages. For England to have absolutely no involvement in the semi-finals of the Amlin or the Heineken Cup speaks for itself.”
The French Top 14 operate a salary cap nearly double the £4.2 million agreed by Premiership Rugby, the English clubs’ umbrella body.
Clermont coach Vern Cotter said: “There is a salary cap in France as well, it is probably slightly more elevated than it is here. I don’t believe that was the reason for the result today.”
Saracens had no answer for Clermont’s intensity and fly-half Brock James’ 17 points while Lee Byrne scored the only try of the afternoon.
Clermont will now face Leinster in a titanic semi-final on 29 April, a day after Edinburgh face Munster’s conquerors Ulster at the Aviva Stadium.
McCall finds it hard to look beyond Clermont for the title. “Their team is star-studded and the internationals they brought off the bench, they were just too good for us,” he said. “They will be a very difficult team to beat. Their semi-final against Leinster will be tremendous.”
Ulster teed up their semi-final against Edinburgh by defeating Munster 22-18.
“Unbelievable,” said Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin. “It was a big highlight in my career, probably the biggest day in my life in rugby terms.”
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