Bloodgate: It was as bad as drug taking, says Brian O’Driscoll, while George Robson reveals Harlequins scandal not a one off

11 Apr

It was the scandal that rocked rugby, a sport which saw its values questioned.

And it all centred around blood capsules bought at a joke shop in Clapham Junction, south west London.

During the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final on 12 April, as Harlequins stared at defeat to Leinster, replacement Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule to engineer a blood substitution.

Williams pretended to be hurt and bit on a blood capsule so he could be replaced by Nick Evans

Biting on the capsule would allow director of rugby Dean Richards to bring fly-half Nick Evans – one of the game’s best kickers – back on to try and win the tie.

Evans had gone off injured in the 47th minute and replaced by Chris Malone, who was subsequently also injured.

As the clock ticked down, Evans hobbled back on. However, he missed a last-minute drop-goal attempt – Quins lost 6-5.

Then the walls came tumbling down.

Television cameras captured Williams winking to the dugout as he trudged off. Something wasn’t right and soon everyone was talking about ‘Bloodgate’ – you know it’s bad when that suffix is attached.

Bloodgate repercussions

When the cheating eventually came to light, the punishments were severe

  • Quins were fined £237,000
  • Dean Richards, being the central figure, was banned from rugby for three years
  • Tom Williams was initially banned for 12 months, which was reduced to four
  • Physio Steph Brennan got a two-year ban.
  • Wendy Chapman, who had cut Williams’s lip at his own request after the game to cover up the ruse, was reprimanded by the General Medical Council

It is the worst form of cheating, according to Brian O’Driscoll who played for Leinster that day.

“This, for me, is like drug taking. I put that in the same category,” he told talkSPORT as part of an interview for a documentary due to air this evening ahead of Bloodgate’s tenth anniversary.

“For me there’s different grades.

“Is Neil Back’s ‘Hand of Back’ [in the 2002 Heineken Cup final] cheating? Yes, it’s a form of it, but do you know what? It’s gamesmanship and for me it’s acceptable, but it’s borderline.

“I think [Bloodgate] was a disgrace. Irrespective of the individual, the act of trying to take a blood capsule, create a situation that wasn’t real to get a player on is a real form of cheating.”

Yet George Robson, who was on the losing Quins team 10 years ago, revealed it wasn’t a one off, telling talkSPORT he came off with a fake blood injury once during an away game at Leicester Tigers.

“I acted as a blood substitute, having a piece of gauze with some blood on it on my head,” the former lock explained.

“That wasn’t my blood, I don’t know if it was blood, I presume it wasn’t.”

Williams is helped from the pitch by Steph Brennan with ‘blood’ pouring from his mouth

For Robson, though, it was an accepted part of the culture he was surrounded by – and he didn’t even give it a second thought 10 years ago.

He continued: “My understanding was, this is the protocol, and the rationale is that it’s going to help us win a rugby game.

“From my perspective, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I didn’t think this is crazy or ridiculous and, 10 years on when I speak to people I work with or study with and share some of that insight, they look at me as if I’ve got three heads.”

From 8pm on talkSPORT

The story of how one blood capsule changed rugby forever, which includes new interviews with Sir Clive Woodward, Brian O’Driscoll and the man at the centre of it all, Tom Williams.