Tom Williams of Harlequins goes past the challenge from Ben Youngs of Leicester… (Shaun Botterill / Getty…)
RUGBY URBAN LEGEND: A player used a blood capsule to fake a cut as part of an elaborate scheme by his team.
One of the more annoying aspects of sports like football and basketball is the concept of "flopping," players pretending to be fouled when they did not actually get foul. How can the referees possibly tell what happened when the "flopper" does a good acting job? After all, it is easy enough to pretend that you were hit by someone.
However, it is a whole other story to try to fake being cut and bleeding. And yet, that's just what happened in 2009 during a rugby union match during the Heineken Cup tournament (a tournament of the top rugby union teams for six countries: England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy) between The Harlequin Football Club (from London) and Leinster Rugby (from Dublin).
Since the introduction of leagues in 1987, the Harlequin Football Club had been part of the Premier League for every year since, save for the 2005-06 season (they dominated National Division One that season and quickly returned to the Premier League). They just recently (a little over a month ago) won the Aviva Premiership as the top team in the English Premier League, with a 30-23 defeat of the Leicester Tigers in front of 81,779 people at Twickenham Stadium. So this is a very well-respected team in the rugby union. So what happened in their match on April 12 of 2009 is even more shocking.
Leinster squeaked out a win in the match 6-5 (and actually went on to win the Heineken Cup). However, it was not before Harlequin player Nick Evans missed a late opportunity for a tying goal. Evans had been injured in the game early on and was only allowed to substitute back in because another Harlequin player, Tom Williams, suffered a cut to his mouth. The bleeding Williams was taped by Sky Sports winking to his teammates as he came to the sidelines, but no one really thought much about it (it did not even make the Sky Sports broadcast of the game). Leinster raised concerns about the substitution.
Dean Richards, director of rugby for the Harlequins (the coach of the team), responded to their initial complaints by saying, "You have to know the rules. If they don’t, it’s not my problem. It was almost a last throw of the dice to bring back Nick. I was a bit reluctant but went with it."
Leinster continued to put pressure on the league so a week after the game, European Club Rugby (ERC) assigned an investigator to look into the controversial substitution and after a month of investigation, announced on July 20th a year-long ban for Tom Williams with no findings against anyone else on the Harlequins.
Naturally, Williams was not happy about being labeled the only "wrongdoer" here, so he talked to the ERC and revealed that not only was he specifically told to fake the injury, but he was supplied with a blood capsule that he was to break to achieve the deception. Furthermore, in one of the most bizarre twists in the scandal, team doctor Wendy Chapman actually cut Williams with a blade so that the alleged cut actually now did exist in case anyone checked it out.
The ERC reduced Williams' suspension from twelve months to four. It suspended team physiotherapist Steph Brennan (who actually supplied the blood capsules) for two years. It suspended Richards (who had already resigned after Williams’ suspension) for three years. It also fined the Harlequins nearly 300,000 pounds.
Later investigations discovered that the Harlequins had done this particular move four previous times! Chapman (who cut Williams after the fact) got off with just a warning. Chapman also got off with a warning from England's Health Professions Council (HPC) for cutting Williams. Brennan, though, was actually banned by the HPC. Last year, he appealed the ruling and was reinstated (with the argument being that his actions deserved censure, not an outright ban).
Williams said at the time, "I let down my teammates and the club's fans, and I'll have to live with those actions for the rest of my career. In deciding to come clean and do the right thing, I've tried honestly to rectify this mess and repay the good faith shown in me by my friends and family."
Mark Evans, chief executive of the Harlequins, said "I would like to apologise to the supporters of Harlequins on behalf of the club. Some of you will feel that manipulation of the substitution; uncontested scrums and sin binning rules are so widespread in the game that this case has been blown out of all proportion. Others will feel it a terrible episode which makes them ashamed of the club they love."