Harlequins escape Heineken Cup expulsion

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The Independent Online

Dean Richards' reputation as one of the most successful players and coaches in English rugby history has been reduced to ruins.

Currently banned from the sport for three years, the latest damning revelations following the Harlequins 'Bloodgate' scandal raise grave doubts whether or not he can ever return.



Quins though, will tonight feel a sense of immense relief they have avoided expulsion from this season's Heineken Cup.



European Rugby Cup directors met in Dublin today, and later said they saw "no reason to interfere with the participation of Harlequins in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup."



This follows suspensions for Richards, Harlequins wing Tom Williams (four months) and ex-Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan (two years) plus a 300,000 euro fine meted out to the club by an independent ERC appeal committee on August 17.



In a statement, ERC said: "The board acknowledged and fully accepted the decisions and sanctions of the independent appeal committee which found the club, Tom Williams, Dean Richards and Steph Brennan all guilty of misconduct under the Heineken Cup 2009/10 disciplinary rules.



"As a consequence of the decisions reached by the independent appeal committee and the significant sanction imposed on the club, the board saw no reason to interfere with the participation of Harlequins in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup.



"However, the board went on to express its concern with many of the issues and practices raised as part of the investigation and in the hearings, and their implications for the wider game.



"And in order to allow time for further consideration of the lengthy decisions published this morning, and the related issues and implications, the board will reconvene on Tuesday next, September 8.



"The board has therefore reserved the right to direct the ERC disciplinary officer to investigate issues raised during the process, which were not covered or dealt within the disciplinary hearings to date, with a view to considering any further misconduct complaints."



The Rugby Football Union, meanwhile, are also keeping a close eye on developments, and their involvement in a disciplinary capacity at some stage cannot be ruled out.



A 99-page document - evidence of the appeal hearing published by ERC - lays bare Richards' role in ordering Williams' fake blood injury during a Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Leinster last season.



His orchestration of the subsequent attempted cover-up also makes for grisly reading, while it took Richards until almost four months after the game before he made a full disclosure to Quins chief executive Mark Evans.



Williams, who is currently suspended until November, bit a fake blood capsule in an attempt to get injured Quins goalkicker Nick Evans back on the field and boot Leinster out of Europe.



But that proved only the start of a shocking episode that has rocked rugby union to its core.



And Richards, who resigned from his Quins post last month, can expect to find no hiding place, such is the magnitude of what he did.



"In one of the highest-profile matches in which the club had ever been involved, he was prepared to cheat Leinster out of a victory by bringing on a player at a crucial stage in the match when that player was not entitled to return to the field of play," read part of the judgement.



"He was quite disinterested in the consideration that, by acting the way that he did, the club which deserved to win the match might be deprived of its victory."



Richards, the appeal committee ruled, was the "directing mind" who had "central control" of the whole sordid affair.



ERC disciplinary officer Roger O'Connor had appealed an original decision to find misconduct complaints against Richards and Brennan not proven.



The appeal committee continued: "Mr Richards was the directing mind and had central control over everything that happened in relation to the fabrication of the blood injury on the pitch, and the cover-up in the days after the match.



"The only aspect of the matter in which the appeal committee determined he did not have direct involvement was the alleged cutting of Mr Williams' lip by Dr (Wendy) Chapman.



"It was Mr Richards who had instigated and directed arrangements which enabled the fabrication of blood injuries as, and when, that was convenient and would assist the club during matches.



"He had long since recruited Mr Brennan as his willing lieutenant in such activities, and in identifying Mr Williams as the person who would fake the blood injury he had selected a player who he thought could be suborned into cheating.



"His (Richards) was the dominant personality and influence on affairs.



"He instigated the cover-up to the extent of requiring Mr Brennan to fabricate statements and then refining the fabrications to ensure that all statements were consistent.



"We considered the primary interest of Mr Richards was in preventing his own role in events being discovered.



"Mr Richards arranged matters so that those who were charged with misconduct complaints would lie to the legal team and would then lie to the disciplinary hearing.



"Mr Richards was by far and away the most experienced and senior individual involved.



"It was open to him at any stage to have said that 'enough is enough' and that the reputation of rugby and Harlequins had been sufficiently damaged.



"If he had admitted at any stage prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary hearing the truth of what had happened then the damage to individuals, the club and the game of rugby union would have been very much reduced."



In relation to Brennan, the committee said he had played "a crucial role" in fabricating the blood injury to Williams.



"His (Brennan's) involvement in the cover up of events after the match was integral.



"He was effectively compelled into telling the truth by the actions of Mr Williams in disclosing how the fabricated blood injury had happened and the cover-up which followed the match.



"If Mr Williams had not come forward and given the true version of what had happened then Mr Brennan, like Mr Richards, would never have told the truth and admitted his involvement in the fabrication of the blood injury and the subsequent cover-up."



Richards though, bears the brunt of a crushing appeal hearing verdict.



Richards, who won 48 England caps, played in six Lions Tests and coached Leicester to four Premiership titles and two Heineken Cup triumphs, is accused of "ducking and diving" in claiming the committee had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.



And it emerged the only area Richards did not have direct involvement in was Chapman's alleged cutting of Williams' lip, at the player's apparent request after he had gone off.



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