Billionaire set to pump £10m into Saracens

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The Independent Online

Saracens are on the brink of agreeing a multi-million pound deal with Johann Rupert, a South African billionaire, that would be the biggest single investment in club rugby since the game went fully professional in 1996.

The eight-figure sum involved is more than four times what the present chairman, Nigel Wray, invested a decade ago. It would also be the single largest overseas funding for a Premiership club.

A £10m-plus investment by the chairman of the Switzerland-based luxury goods company Richemont, which owns the Cartier, Mont Blanc and Dunhill names among others, would open up numerous opportunities. Last night, however, the chief executive of the holding company Premier Team Holdings, Mark Sinderberry, who is also chief executive of Saracens, played down the deal, saying nothing had been signed.

"There are still a few hurdles to get over yet," he said. "A deal is never done until it is signed."

Sinderberry said talks had been going on for several months and that if everything went to schedule he would expect to sign off on the deal at the end of this month. "The hurdles are not insurmountable and I am excited at the potential," he said.

"It would not only be Saracens who benefited. There are three other companies in the group who would have uses for such a cash injection."

He added: "We have not talked about what we would do with the money."

Such an unprecedented windfall, however, might mean that Saracens, who at present share Watford FC's Vicarage Road home, would be able to fund a return to a ground closer to their north-London roots. The club's original home was at Bramley Road in Southgate and a club insider suggested yesterday that the management were keen to relocate either to north London or south Hertfordshire, where a rugby-dedicated stadium might be built.

Last night the club was eager to stress that the deal with Rupert, who was linked with a buy-out of Blackburn Rovers last year, did not represent a takeover of Saracens and that Wray would remain as chairman of the rugby club and would keep his majority shareholding, safeguarding the club's Premiership place.

"Obviously, Mr Rupert's investment would give him a place on the board," said Sinderberry, "but I want to stress that there will be no change in the control of either PTH or any of the four companies in the group, including Saracens."

That news will ease fears that Rupert, 57, is repeating his 2004 attempt to introduce an England-based, all-South African club into the Premiership. He was behind a plan to buy out the then National League One club Wakefield and rename it "London Tribe". The idea was that Rupert and his partner, the Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, would staff the new club chiefly with South Africans and attempt to win promotion.

A consortium fronted by the Springbok forward Bobby Skinstad wanted to base the new club at Loftus Road, the home of Queen's Park Rangers. The Rugby Football Union, however, threw out the proposals on the principle that a club's league status should not be put up for sale.

* Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps and England forward, is today expected to announced his retirement from international rugby with immediate effect and club rugby at the end of the season.

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