English rugby's disciplinary classes may have made their peace with Brendan Venter – while the Saracens boss had two almighty run-ins with officialdom last season, relations are now said to be extremely cosy – but as the equally controversial figure of Dean Richards is looming large on the horizon, this is far from the end of their troubles. Richards, kicked out of the sport for three years after belatedly admitting to his starring role in the fake blood scandal at Harlequins, is currently in discussions with senior figures about taking tentative steps back into the game he disgraced.
Barely a third of the way through his suspension, the former England No 8 has already muddied the waters by helping relegated Worcester identify a new coaching team capable of delivering an immediate return to the Premiership. Yesterday, Judge Jeff Blackett, the Rugby Football Union's chief disciplinary officer, declared that he was in discussions with Richards about "what exactly he can and cannot do" during the remainder of his banishment.
"Dean has asked the International Rugby Board for clarification on his sanction," Blackett reported. "He has had a response from them, and I've agreed to have a look at it. We are in dialogue at the moment and I expect it to come to a conclusion within the next month. There will have to be a careful legal analysis of the original judgement. Dean is keen to know what he can do within rugby – for instance, can he speak at rugby dinners, or coach his children in their school team? – and it's important to create a definitive list, because he does not want to contravene any directives."
Those who thought Richards' admission of guilt – for arming the Quins wing Tom Williams with a blood capsule and telling him to bite on it as part of a substitution scam – left little doubt as to the legal basis of whatever action the authorities might choose to take against him must now think again, for the peculiar circumstances of the affair have opened up a king-sized can of worms. Because the incident occurred in a Heineken Cup match, the disciplinary process was handled by European Rugby Cup Ltd through an independent panel. When ERC banned him, it was from its competitions alone, with a request to all other competition organisers and national unions to fall into line. This, they did. But it would be arguable in a court of law that the IRB, as the supreme decision-making body in the sport, should have held its own hearing, rather than simply rubber-stamp the ERC decision.
"In my view, the sanction was expressed equivocally," Blackett said. "One of the lessons we've learnt from this is that if we're going to give sanctions that are not of the on-field variety – those involving players – we must be very clear on exactly what the sanction means. It's taken a bit of time to reach this stage because of correspondence between the various parties and outstanding issues involving others caught up in the affair. Everyone wanted the whole case to be brought to a conclusion before Dean's situation was addressed."
Last month, Dr Wendy Chapman was given leave by the General Medical Council to resume her career, despite admitting she had deliberately sliced open Williams' lip with a stitch cutter – at the player's request – in an effort to disguise his use of fake blood. Another of the central figures in this miserable business, the physiotherapist Steph Brennan, is scheduled to appear before his professional body shortly. Brennan has already lost a position with the England team as a result of his involvement.
Toby Flood, the current England stand-off, will spend the next six weeks on the sidelines after straining the medial ligament in his left knee during Leicester's opening-day Premiership defeat at Northampton – an injury significantly less serious than at first feared. He therefore has an outside chance of featuring in the first of the autumn Tests, against New Zealand on 6 November, although the selectors may have issues with his match fitness. Should they decline to consider Flood, they will probably take the most obvious step available to them and recall Jonny Wilkinson to the starting combination.Reuse content