The men from the Heineken Cup have finally had their fill of Harlequins. It is now for the Rugby Football Union to pick over the remains of what was once, in the days before blood capsules and cover-ups, perhaps England's best run and most ambitious club. Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, will decide over the next couple of days whether to launch his own inquiry into the actions of those members of the Quins hierarchy whose roles in the "Bloodgate" affair have yet to be fully investigated.
These include Charles Jillings, who stood down as chairman last month, and Mark Evans, the chief executive, considered by many to be the most gifted administrator in the domestic game. Assuming Blackett opts to peer more closely into some of the darker corners of the Tom Williams substitution scandal – and the indications yesterday were that he might well do so – the issues of who knew what and when, and who said what to whom, will be at the top of his agenda. Quins may have clung to their place in this season's Heineken Cup by the skin of their teeth, but the RFU could refuse to nominate them for future tournaments should it reach the conclusion that all the resignations, suspensions and fines are not enough.
Yesterday, the board of European Rugby Cup Ltd, which runs the Heineken Cup, agreed they had taken things "as far as is feasible". As for Dr Wendy Chapman, the match-day doctor accused of deliberately cutting the lip of Williams in an effort to disguise the fact that the Quins wing had faked a blood injury on the instructions of his director of rugby Dean Richards, the board confirmed that the General Medical Council was seeking information on the case. Charges against Dr Chapman were dismissed by an independent appeal panel on technical grounds.
Blackett was reluctant to discuss the specifics of the Quins affair yesterday, but he was clearly irked by the disciplinary havoc of the last few months – the drugs-related issues at Bath and the sudden spate of gouging offences at both club and international level, as well as the naked cheating across the road at The Stoop. "It would clearly be nonsense to say there has been no damage to the image of the sport," he commented. "The important thing is to establish exactly what has been happening in English rugby, then draw a line and say: 'This or that might have been going on in the past, but it's not going on now.
"Am I dismayed? Not particularly. I'd say I was disappointed. Human nature is human nature. Whatever we do, there will always be someone stepping across the line somewhere. A group of professional players aged between 18 and 30 is comparable to any other group of young men and certain instances are inevitable. I don't believe we should be surprised that things happen. The key is to deal with them properly and I think our disciplinary process at the RFU is fast, reliable and picks up most people."
Last night, Blackett's disciplinary machinery was running once again when George Robson of Harlequins – yes, them again – appeared before a tribunal in London to face a charge arising from his dismissal for butting after less than 40 seconds of the derby meeting with Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday. Suspensions for such offences can range from four weeks to two years.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Rugby Union has agreed to pay a total of £30m over five years to its four professional regional sides in return for guaranteed access to international players ahead of, and during, periods of Test activity. In addition, the regional sides will be expected to increase to at least 17 the average number of Wales-qualified players in their match-day squads.Reuse content