Saracens boss Mark McCall admitted the noise surrounding the club’s off-field activities undoubtedly had an impact on their humbling 41-14 defeat at Harlequins on Sunday.

The English and European champions were featuring in the Premiership for the first time since their automatic relegation to the second tier was announced as a result of breaching salary cap rules.

Danny Care’s early score and two Cadan Murley tries put the hosts in control, and while Alex Lozowski and later Dom Morris went over for Sarries, Gabriel Ibitoye, Paul Lasike and Martin Landajo dotted down to seal an emphatic win.

While he was without a large contingent of players missing on Six Nations duty, McCall insisted the mental distraction of the club’s future took its toll, while he remained hopeful his men will regain their form in the coming weeks.

“It is quite difficult to focus on a game as big as this and against a Quins side who played as well as they did,” he said. “After 19 weeks, this was a bridge too far for us.

“This has been the most difficult week because when the original decision was made, there was a strong feeling in the group that we wouldn’t get relegated.

“But the news last week that we were and all the repercussions that have come this week have made it the toughest and brought a lot of anxiety about people’s personal situations and what they will do next.

“I don’t think what happened today was reflective of how this team has done in the last few weeks. That team beat Leicester at Welford Road and Gloucester at Kingsholm.

“I think this game is the worst you will see of us. We hope to be far more competitive than that for the rest of the season. It’s just that things are still fresh and raw.”

Amidst the disappointment, one cause for optimism was the performance of 22-year-old centre Morris, who marked his return from injury with a try at The Stoop.

And while admitting his side didn’t live up to the energy and quality displayed by their London rivals, the academy graduate can’t wait to help his team get back up to speed on the pitch, with a Premiership Rugby Cup tie at Sale next up.

He said: “It was great to be back out there with the boys on the pitch. I’ve been out for nearly five months, so it was great to put the shirt back on because I really missed it.

“We made a few mistakes against a quick and unpredictable Harlequins side, and I think we let our heads go down. We’ve got to show a bit more composure as a group, communicate and see what we can do to improve.

“I think we’ve got a good group of young players who can push on and put our front foot forward now, and that’s what we’ll all be striving to do.”