It started, in a way, with a visit to a joke shop at Clapham Junction, but it stopped being a joke weeks ago. Now, it is the most unfunny thing in the rugby world, and it will be many months – perhaps years – before Harlequins start laughing again. The evidence presented by the wing Tom Williams to a disciplinary hearing into the "Bloodgate" scandal, published for the first time yesterday, contains the most embarrassing set of accusations ever levelled at a professional club anywhere in the sport.
Fighting to reduce a 12-month suspension imposed for his role in the affair – Williams bit on a blood capsule in the closing stages of his club's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster last April, thereby allowing the goal-kicker Nick Evans to return to the field for one last illicit shot at goal – the 25-year-old player spilled beans all over the most senior figures at the Stoop: the director of rugby Dean Richards, who resigned as a result of Williams' decision to appeal; Charles Jillings, the chairman; and Mark Evans, the chief executive. The fall-out is far from over.
During his testimony, Williams made the following accusations:
* That Richards told him before he took the field as a substitute that he would be "coming off for blood". (Richards denied this, claiming the decision was reached after Williams had taken the field).
* That Steph Brennan, the physiotherapist, gave him a blood capsule, telling him to "do the right thing". (Other evidence revealed that Brennan had bought capsules from the joke shop at Clapham Junction on Richards' instruction).
* That he was so "programmed to Dean's authority" that he did not consider the rights and wrongs of the matter, and that even in hindsight he felt he had no choice because of the possible consequences of disobedience.
* That once match officials and members of the Leinster staff had become suspicious, he asked the club doctor, Wendy Chapman, to give him a genuine wound by cutting his lip.
*That he, among others, was presented with a misleading statement by Richards and told to sign it in advance of the original disciplinary hearing.
* That Richards criticised his delivery of evidence during the initial hearing and said he would be "better coached for the appeal".
* That on deciding to make a full disclosure as part of his appeal, he was warned of the potential effect on the club by Evans, who said it would be "worse than relegation" and pressed him not to make such a disclosure. He also said he was offered a handsome compensation package by Jillings.
The tactics used by the Harlequins hierarchy will leave the club open to the fiercest criticism. "Mark Evans' suggestion that I pursue a limited type of appeal was contrary to my own feelings and my advice," said Williams, who did not have independent legal support at the initial hearing. "I now had a dilemma and it weighed heavily on my mind. The club preferred that I should appeal on much more limited grounds, which focused on the length of my ban. This would minimise the club's exposure. I had no desire to harm the club, but at the same time I wanted the truth to be told. I had lied so far on the club's directions and this had resulted in a 12-month ban. I decided I would not allow the club to make me lie again."
In early August, Williams received a voicemail apology from Richards. He then met Jillings at the offices of the Professional Rugby Players' Association in Twickenham, less than a mile from the crime scene at the Stoop. Jillings made an astonishing offer. "He started by apologising to me for the position I had been placed in," Williams said. "I am sure he was sincere. Charles then laid out a compensation offer to me. This consisted of payment of my salary while I was suspended, an assurance that I would be selected for the team on merit once my suspension ended, a two-year contract extension, a testimonial, a three-year employment opportunity with the club after I retired from playing and an assurance that he would take a direct interest in my post-rugby career.
"He asked me what I was planning to do in relation to an appeal. Damian Hopley [the PRA chief executive] replied that I was appealing on a full disclosure basis. Charles told me that he thought I should appeal, but it should be on a limited basis that focused on the sanction and not the findings of fact ... Charles said that if ERC decided to convene a personal hearing and questions were asked of me that might incriminate the other parties I could simply refuse to answer those questions. At the end of the meeting, I agreed to consider what he had said."
Williams told the panel that he felt under intense pressure not to make the full disclosure to which he had recently committed himself. But after Quins rejected a compensation package of his own design, which included the paying off of a mortgage on the house he owned with his girlfriend, he decided, following further discussions, to press ahead.
According to Williams, he began to feel angry at the situation in which he found himself the moment the Leinster game ended. "It did not take long for news to filter through that we had lost the game 6-5," he told the tribunal. "I was devastated. I also grew increasingly angry about what had happened to me. I had hoped... to help my club win a famous victory. Instead, I had been required to cheat and had been placed in an impossible position."
The ERC authorities plan to publish their judgement in the cases against Richards, Brennan and the club soon. More humiliation is guaranteed, and the chances of further resignations are shortening by the minute.
In Williams' own words: the appeal testimony at the centre of the 'Bloodgate' affair
The following extracts are from Tom Williams' statement, given to the European Rugby Cup appeal against the year's ban initially handed to him. Several points have been contested by other parties.
On the blood capsule
"With 10 minutes left, and the score standing at 6-5 to to Leinster... Dean told me to tell Steph Brennan, one of the club's physios, that I would be coming off for blood.
"Whilst Mike Brown was taking the penalty, Steph came onto the pitch... At this point Steph handed me a blood capsule... I instinctively placed the capsule in my sock as there was nowhere else to put it... I would like to say that I was presented with a huge dilemma when I was handed the blood capsule. However, in reality I was so programmed to Dean's authority and focussed in the game that there were no such considerations...
"No one had told me when to fake the injury, but I understood that I should go down once I was involved in some contact. At one stage, Leinster put up a high-ball, and I caught it... two Leinster players hit me from behind... To be clear, I did not sustain any injuries from this collision...
"I returned to the full-back position and knelt down on one knee to bite the blood capsule. I removed it from my sock and placed it in my mouth... On the first attempt, the blood capsule fell from my mouth. I picked it up and bit it again... Not only is this aspect of the episode shameful, it is also very embarrassing. However, it is a good indication that I was not thinking about what I was doing... The way I removed it from my sock and dropped it was ridiculous..."
On the infamous wink
"I also winked as I left the pitch. This was not a signal or sign, as has been suggested. Instead, I was simply responding to one of my team-mates, Jim Evans, who suggested that I should "tough it out" as there were only a few minutes until the end of the game."
On what went on in the physio's room
"A real sense of panic began to set in... I then felt someone wipe their finger across my leg. I now understand this was the 5th Official. I guessed he was wiping what he thought was fake blood from me to examine it. As he removed the substance from my leg, he said that it was not blood...
"In the circumstances it seemed the only solution was to cut my lip. I believe it was at this point that I asked Wendy [Chapman, one of the club's match-day doctors] to make the cut... I remember that she was not happy about it."
On the aftermath
"By the day of the hearing I was feeling ill. This was a combination of nerves and stress... I was growing increasingly anxious at the prospect of lying to the Tribunal... I genuinely did not consider I had a choice. Dean had directed a course and my job was to follow him..."
On the compensation offer
"In my meeting with Charles [Jillings, Harlequins' chairman, on 5 August]... he laid out a compensation offer... This consisted of payment of salary while I was suspended, an assurance that I would be selected for the team on merit once my suspension ended, a two-year contract extension, a testimonial, a three-year employment opportunity with the Club after retiring from playing, and an assurance that he would take direct interest in my post-rugby career...
"I would in all possibility be sitting out a season of rugby. After having discussed this with my girlfriend, I took the view that adequate compensation for all of this would be the Club apologising to me, extending my contract terms and paying off the mortgage on the house I own with my girlfriend..."Reuse content