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Lyon offer an escape route to trio of Saracens superstars

Saracens

LYON have stepped into the salary cap chaos by offering Saracens players Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola a move to the Top 14.

The trio all face uncertain futures with the double Premiership, and European Champions, being relegated to the Championship at the end of the season.

They are three of nine Saracens players who played for England at the World Cup last year and will be in demand as the squad now looks certain to be dismantled.

Saracens need to knock off £2m from their wage bill to comply with the £7m salary cap and have accepted they cannot do that this season.

Lyon are currently going head to head with Bordeaux Bègles at the head of the Top 14 table as they hunt their first title since 1933.

They want to recruit a big-name fly-half, second row and No.8 this summer and are ready to test RFU rules which state England players must play in the Premiership.

A leading player’s agent has told The Rugby Paper that the RFU will evoke the exceptional circumstances rule to allow England internationals to play where they like.

He said: “It was Saracens getting into a financial mess that is leading to them being relegated and nothing to do with the players.

“All the English clubs have spent the majority of their money for next season already. The player shouldn’t be punished twice if they are forced abroad.

“It isn’t fair that players will be punished for a club’s mistake and by the RFU for something that was out of their control.”

Saracens have already announced that Liam Williams is leaving and England second row George Kruis is set to follow him, probably with a move to Japan.

Other players who could be on their way include Callum Clark, Michael Rhodes, Alex Lewington, Sean Maitland, Ali Crossdale and Joe Gray.

Meanwhile, some senior Saracens players are upset that owner and former chairman Nigel Wray has been left to carry the can for the club’s spectacular fall from grace.

The players believe that director of rugby Mark McCall should be shouldering more of the blame.

They feel that the hugely popular and highly respected Wray has been isolated while others have distanced themselves from any responsibility.

“There is a solid feeling that Mark should be taking some of the blame here. He must have known how much was being spent on players,” said a source.

It is the first sign of cracks coming from the Saracens camp.

Saracens who face Racing 92 in the Champions Cup later this afternoon will hold talks with senior players tomorrow to sound them out about their plans.

It is now almost inevitable that one of the most successful squads in Premiership history will be broken up as the club look to slash millions from their wage bill.

NEIL FISSLER

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