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.

European Rugby Champions Cup round-up: Newcastle claim brilliant victory over Montpellier, Leinster suffer agonising defeat at Toulouse

21 Oct

It’s been an eventful day in the European Champions Cup. Here is the best of Sunday’s action.

Newcastle 23-20 Montpellier

Newcastle snatched a dramatic 23-20 victory over star-studded Montpellier to go top of their pool in the Champions Cup.

With England head coach Eddie Jones in the stand, Newcastle led 16-6 at half-time and after last weekend’s heroics against Toulouse, the Falcons looked to be heading for another win against a side boasting a dozen internationals led by France number eight Louis Picamoles.

But Ruan Pienaar kicked two crucial penalties and lock Paul Willemse rumbled over for a try to give the visitors a 20-16 lead. But with the clock showing full time, the Falcons mounted one last attack following a penalty to the corner and after a staggering 39 phases, lock Callum Chick was driven over and Joel Hodgson converted for a last-gasp victory which takes Newcastle top of pool five.

Callum Chick and Gary Graham celebrate the brilliant win for Falcons

Toulouse 28-27 Leinster

Leinster’s impressive unbeaten run in the Heineken Champions Cup shuddered to a dramatic halt as the reigning champions fell to a 28-27 defeat at Pool 1 rivals Toulouse.

After last weekend’s bonus-point victory over Wasps, Leinster – who won all their games on their march to the title last season – started the match at Stade Ernest Wallon as favourites against their fellow four-time European champions.

But an end-to-end game turned on a raking length-of-the-field interception try in the dying minutes.

Replacement Louis-Benoit Madaule picked up a loose pass and released Toulouse’s flying backs division. Moments later, Maxime Medard scored his second try of the afternoon to wrest back a lead the hosts had held until midway through the second half.

Leinster was so close to claiming the win

Cardiff Blues 12-29 Glasgow

Glasgow opened their Heineken Champions Cup account with a 29-12 bonus point victory over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.

But the real beneficiaries were Pool Three leaders Saracens, who are four points clear of their rivals heading into December home and away fixtures against the Blues.

Glasgow, beaten at home by Saracens last weekend, did not look back after fly-half Adam Hastings and wing DTH van der Merwe scored tries in the first five minutes.

Hastings also added a conversion and penalty before half-time, and when scrum-half Ali Price rounded off a crisp move early in the second period, the only serious debate was whether or not Glasgow would claim a five-point maximum.

Early tries from Adam Hastings (pictured) and DTH van der Merwe set Glasgow on their way to victory

Glasgow got there when lock Jonny Gray added a fourth try 12 minutes from time – again converted by Hastings – and there was no doubting their supremacy over a Blues side that fell way short of repeating last Sunday’s performance when they beat Lyon in France.

Wing Aled Summerhill claimed two consolation tries for the Blues, with Gareth Anscombe adding a conversion, but they were also chasing a game that, in truth, was beyond reach following Glasgow’s early onslaught.

Leinster edge out Racing 92 to secure fourth Champions Cup title

12 May
Leinster edge out Racing 92 to secure fourth Champions Cup title
Leinster claimed the Champions Cup

Leinster survived a nail-biting conclusion to win the European Champions Cup for the fourth time, edging out Racing 92 15-12 in a dour battle at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium.

Isa Nacewa landed the match-winning penalty in the 78th minute, but Leo Cullen’s men had to survive a frantic finish at the end of which Racing replacement fly-half Remi Tales pushed a drop-goal effort wide.

Racing shrugged off injuries to fly-halves Dan Carter and Pat Lambie to lead twice during a cagey first half, Teddy Iribaren’s two penalties being cancelled out by a Jonathan Sexton brace.

The 6-6 scoreline became 9-9 and then 12-12 as Iribaren landed four of his five penalty attempts and Sexton finished with three.

It was left to the retiring captain Nacewa to bring Leinster level, before an offside decision against Tales allowed the 35-year-old winger to boot the Blues to their first European title since 2012.

The Irish province now jointly hold the record for most European Cups won along with Toulouse, while Cullen is the first man to win the tournament as both a player and a coach.

Nacewa, Cian Healy, Sexton and Devin Toner all collected a record-equalling fourth title.

A pre-match hamstring injury spoiled Carter’s European swansong, with Racing’s injury list already including talismanic skipper Maxime Machenaud (knee) and Dimitri Szarzewski (bicep).

Lambie’s final lasted just under three minutes, the South African stand-off damaging his knee on an early break which led to Iribaren’s opening penalty from 45 metres out.

Sexton levelled in the 16th minute following his own loop with Scott Fardy and a penetrating run from Nacewa, but Iribaren, who impressed along with Camille Chat in a composed first quarter from Racing, punished a maul infringement for 6-3.

Although struggling to produce quick ruck ball on the greasy surface, Leinster had the edge under the high ball through Rob Kearney.

James Ryan’s high work-rate launched Leinster forward to win a kickable penalty, only for Sexton’s tap-and-go to end in a relieving breakdown penalty poached by hooker Chat.

Sexton made no mistake with a 38th-minute effort from the tee, following a deliberate knock-on by Leone Nakarawa who narrowly avoided the sin-bin.

Iribaren’s right boot restored Racing’s lead five minutes after the restart, rewarding a bruising set of carries from his pack. Sexton slipped in his attempts to respond with a difficult 48-metre penalty.

The Ireland fly-half nailed his next effort to square things up again in the 53rd minute, the heavy pre-match favourites beginning to find some half-gaps through Robbie Henshaw and Sean Cronin.

Sexton suffered his second miss from long range, following a James Ryan lineout steal, and as the contest became increasingly scrappy, Iribaren’s only penalty miss let Dan Leavy off the hook for a high tackle.

Referee Wayne Barnes’ whistle was far too influential for both sides’ liking, the stop-start fare leading to successful place-kicks from Iribaren and Nacewa late on.

Crucially, it was Racing who blundered when Teddy Thomas was tackled into touch, and Nacewa took full advantage of Tales’ subsequent offside to claim a very hard-earned victory.

Leinster 38-16 Scarlets: Leo Cullen’s men advance to European Champions Cup final after dominant victory

21 Apr
Leinster 38-16 Scarlets: Leo Cullen's men advance to European Champions Cup final after dominant victory at the Aviva Stadium
The Leinster players celebrate in front of their home fans

Leinster advanced to their first Champions Cup final since 2012 after swatting Scarlets aside in an utterly dominant 38-16 win at the Aviva Stadium.

Leo Cullen’s men were relentless as they put the Welsh region to the sword, notching first-half tries through James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden, and adding two more after the break from man-of-the-match Scott Fardy and Jonathan Sexton.

They had clearly done their homework after last year’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat to Scarlets, McFadden’s try on the stroke of half-time giving the Irish province a 24-9 half-time lead.

Leigh Halfpenny’s three penalties from three attempts, and a slight scrum advantage, were Scarlets’ only positives in this one-sided Celtic clash, and they salvaged some pride late on with a try from their former Leinster forward Tadhg Beirne.

It was Leinster’s eighth straight European victory this season and sets up the possibility of an all-Irish final in Bilbao in three weeks’ time if Munster can come through Sunday’s semi-final against Racing 92.

Beirne forced an early turnover to lift Scarlets, who had reached the last four for the first time since 2007. Steff Evans then drew a high tackle from Fardy which allowed Halfpenny to smash over a sixth-minute penalty for the lead.

That brought the best out of Leinster, Rob Kearney finding a superb touch and Fardy charging down Aled Davies, before they went wide and Ryan evaded Beirne’s attempted tackle and bounced up to score his first try for the province, converted by Sexton.

The hosts were 10-3 in front after fit-again centre Robbie Henshaw had a couple of powerful runs and Scarlets infringed close to the posts, allowing Sexton to widen the margin to seven.

Halfpenny’s supreme goal-kicking kept the Welshmen within range, despite the concession of a second Leinster try.

A scrum penalty against Healy closed the gap to 10-6 before the Ireland prop, with support from the ever-wlling Fardy, crashed over for a 26th-minute converted score. Sexton’s initial cross-field kick had seen Steff Evans concede a five-metre scrum.

Halfpenny punished a Daniel Leavy offside seven minutes later, but Leinster’s forwards flooded forward from a late penalty and the pressure told, Garry Ringrose flinging a pass wide for winger McFadden to reach over in the right corner ahead of Steff Evans.

Sexton added the conversion for good measure, putting 15 points between the sides at the interval, and Leinster showed no signs of letting up when play resumed.

Tadhg Furlong lost the ball in contact as Scarlets defended close to their line, a Sean Cronin break had Leinster knocking on the door again with Jordan Larmour, a replacement for the injured McFadden, showing his sidestepping ability.

It was Larmour who ripped the ball from Rhys Patchell to set the wheels in motion for the fourth try, Ryan and Fardy combining slickly in the 22 for the Australian international to power over. Sexton’s conversion made it 31-9.

Leinster’s pack came hunting for more, carrying hard on the hour mark before Sexton stepped off his left foot for a smart finish. In contrast, Scarlets knocked on from a gilt-edged lineout opportunity, and they needed Scott Williams’ last-ditch tackle to deny Kearney a try.

With their strong bench keeping them on the front foot, Leinster missed out on a further try when a lunging Fardy had a 73rd-minute score chalked off for hands in the ruck.

The former Wallaby missed a tackle which allowed Beirne through for his consolation score, with Patchell drop-kicking the conversion.

Leinster 30-19 Saracens: Premiership side crash out of Champions Cup to set up a clash between Leinster and Scarlets

1 Apr
Leinster 30-19 Saracens: Premiership side crash out of Champions Cup to set up a clash between Leinster and Scarlets
Saracens players can only look on as Leinster romp to victory

Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster extinguished English interest in the Champions Cup by inflicting a 30-19 defeat on reigning champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium.

The Irish province and tournament top seeds will face the Scarlets in the semi-finals at the same ground – most likely on Saturday, April 21 – after completing a conclusive victory in Dublin.

Ireland openside Dan Leavy was outstanding to pick up where he left off in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham a fortnight ago, crowning his performance with a terrific 47th-minute try that ultimately swept the match beyond Saracens’ reach.

Garry Ringrose and James Lowe also touched down to confirm Leinster’s dominance and it was a fully deserved victory for the team bossed by former England head coach Lancaster. Leinster played the better attacking rugby from start to finish.

Saracens’ doggedness ensured they were never put to the sword and trailing 13-12 at half time they had hope of continuing their quest for a record-equalling third successive European crown deeper into the knock-out phase.

A try for Blair Cowan in the 64th minute revived Saracens spirits after Leinster built a commanding lead, but the wall of blue shirts refused to crack again even though it was the visitors from across the Irish Sea who were ascendant throughout the final quarter.

Mako Vunipola, who saw his brother Billy ruled out by a broken arm, was magnificent but he was swimming against the tide as the only Aviva Premiership club in the quarter-finals bowed out.

Saracens had only themselves to blame when their line cracked as early as the fourth minute, Liam Williams and Jackson Wray falling off Lowe before Isa Nacewa tore down the left touchline and fed Ringrose the scoring pass.

Despite the early setback, the defending champions dominated possession with Vunipola shouldering the bulk of the carrying workload, but they struggled to make any decisive headway against a resolute home defence.

Three penalties from Owen Farrell, who passed a fitness test on a thigh injury to start at fly-half, left Saracens trailing 10-9 at the half-hour mark as a scrappy match weaved an uncertain path.

The tension mounted as Johnny Sexton rifled over three points only to then interfere with the ensuing restart by kicking the ball away, enabling Marcelo Bosch to hit the mark from the halfway line.

Alex Goode’s elusive running was causing problems from full-back and one run swept Saracens deep into opposition territory only for Leinster to defend a close-range line-out.

The Irish province raced out of the blocks in the second half and in eight minutes they had amassed 10 points underpinned by a brilliantly worked try for Leavy, who combined with James Ryan close to the ruck to open up a hole that he galloped through.

Leinster’s onslaught continued with Sexton attacking down the left wing before the wall eventually found Lowe, who was carried over the line by his team-mates.

A line-out drive produced Saracens’ first try of the afternoon with Cowan touching down, but despite the fallen champions’ best efforts they could make no further inroads.