Saracens will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season after a fourth salary-cap breach.
The reigning champions, who in November were fined more than £5m and docked 35 Premiership points for exceeding the cap in the previous three seasons, accepted they would not come in within the £7m cap at the end of the season.
Under the salary-cap regulations, breaches committed after the start of a season are punished the following campaign but Saracens, after talks with Premiership Rugby, decided to be relegated this season rather than wait a year.
Neil Golding, Saracens’ chairman, said on Saturday: “I acknowledge the club has made errors in the past and we unreservedly apologise for those mistakes. I and the rest of the Board are committed to overseeing stringent new governance measures to ensure regulatory compliance.”
In a full statement published on Sunday, the club said they “unreservedly apologise for the mistakes made in relation to the salary cap regulations” and accepted the Premiership’s decision to relegate them.
“Our goal is to rebuild confidence and trust,” the statement continued. “The first step was to appoint a new independent chairman to lead on governance reform ensuring errors of the past are not replicated in the future.
“Furthermore, following open and frank discussions with PRL, we have accepted the unprecedented measure of automatic relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2019-2020 season. We understand this decision will be difficult for the Saracens family to accept.
“The board must embody the values of the club, learn from its mistakes so the club can come back stronger. It is in the wider interests of the Premiership and English rugby to take this decisive step, to ensure everybody is able once again to focus on the game of rugby, which we all love.
“We hope that we can now start to move forward, begin to restore confidence and over time, rebuild trust with PRL, its stakeholders and the wider rugby community.”
Saracens will compete in the Premiership through to the end of the current 2019-20 season and even though there is no salary cap in the Championship, will have to present their books for scrutiny before being allowed back up.
The reigning European champions, the winners of four league titles in the last five years, are still in the Champions Cup running. But domestically, they are now set for English rugby union’s second tier alongside clubs such as Ampthill, Jersey and Hartpury.
Premiership Rugby’s chief executive, Darren Childs, said: “[We are] prepared to take strong action to enforce the regulations governing fair competition between our clubs. At the conclusion of dialogue with Saracens about their compliance with the salary-cap regulations, it has been decided that Saracens will be relegated at the end of this season.
“At the same time as enforcing the existing regulations, we want to ensure a level playing field for all clubs in the future, which is why we have asked Lord Myners to carry out an independently-led review of the cap,” Childs added.
“As part of this process, we will soon be announcing an open consultation so that everyone involved in the game has the opportunity to contribute to its future. The actions that we have taken – dealing with breaches of the current regulations and reviewing the system for the future – will help us to build a stronger league and uphold the confidence of supporters.”
Saracens’ punishment was widely sought by their Premiership rivals, with Exeter – beaten for two seasons in a row by Sarries in the Premiership final – the most outspoken.
Their chief executive, Tony Rowe, told BBC Radio Devon: “They’ve taken relegation. Let’s be very honest about this before people have sympathy with Saracens, they had two choices: they could either open up their books so that Premiership Rugby could do a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on, or they could take relegation. So it was their choice not to open up their books.
“Premiership Rugby – all the chairmen – we just want to move on. It was their opportunity to open up everything to the salary-cap people, or take relegation. They have decided to take relegation.”
He added: “We just want to move on. They have cheated. And I’m just a bit upset it has taken so long to do this. At the moment they are still picking their team each week largely from the squad they had last year which is still in breach of the salary cap. They have been asked by the rest of the Premiership clubs to reduce that [the squad] back as well.”