The humiliation is complete. Dean Richards, one of the outstanding international forwards of the post-war era and very nearly as successful as a director of rugby, was confirmed yesterday, in dry but devastating legalese, as a cheat. The word will ring in his No 8's cauliflower ears, weigh on his mauler's shoulders and attach itself to his tree-trunk legs like a ball and chain. The authorities have made him an outcast for the next three years. The stigma will last far longer.
Having lied to a disciplinary tribunal about events surrounding the so-called "Bloodgate" affair – the faking of a blood injury during last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final with Leinster and its sorry aftermath – Harlequins' former boss appeared in front of an independent appeal panel last month to tell a very different story. If he hoped the detail of this second account would spare him the most acute embarrassment, he hoped in vain.
"It was Mr Richards who had instigated and directed arrangements that enabled fabrication of blood injuries as and when that was convenient and would assist the club during matches," wrote Rod McKenzie, the panel chairman, in his judgement. "In one of the highest profile matches in which the club had ever been involved he was prepared to try to cheat Leinster out of a victory by bringing on a player at a crucial stage of the match when that player was not entitled to return... He was quite disinterested in the consideration that by acting the way he did, the club that deserved to win the match might be deprived of its victory.
"His was the dominant personality and influence on affairs. He knew, or ought to have known, that players such as Tom Williams (the wing who bit on the capsule, thereby allowing the goal-kicker Nick Evans to reappear on the field for one last match-winning shot at goal) would likely obey his instructions whether it meant cheating or not.
"Suspicions having been aroused by the amateur theatrics of the blood capsule and Mr Williams' attempts to appear injured, Mr Richards then set about ensuring that those who needed to lie to protect his position did so. He instigated the cover-up to the extent of requiring Mr Brennan (Steph Brennan, the physiotherapist who handed Williams the capsule) to fabricate statements, and then refining the fabrications to ensure that all statements were consistent.
"We did not believe Mr Richards when he said that the prime driving force in the cover-up was the protection of the professional position of Dr Chapman (Wendy Chapman, the doctor alleged to have deliberately cut Williams in an effort to disguise the earlier chicanery). We considered the primary interest of Mr Richards was in preventing his own role in events being discovered."
There was more. The appeal panel account showed how Richards attempted to escape sporting justice at the start of the hearing by claiming, through his lawyer Mark Gay, that European Rugby Cup Ltd, the Heineken Cup's governing body, had no jurisdiction because he had not signed the competition's participation agreement. He would therefore appear as a witness, not as a respondent. This line of argument was dismissed with considerable force by the panel.
Richards' testimony was not without its comic moments, although it is unlikely the former policeman found it funny. At one point, it was suggested by one of the panel, Professor Lorne Crerar of the Scottish Rugby Union, that with his background in the Leicestershire constabulary, he must have been familiar with the preparation of witness statements – a reference to the concocted accounts originally signed by Williams and Brennan, among others. Richards could only reply that the Harlequins statements were under a "different format".
There was also a hilarious description of a previous attempt a faking a blood injury, in which the player concerned swallowed the capsule instead of biting on it. But Richards' barefaced lies to his own chief executive, Mark Evans, when initially questioned about the Williams incident were far more serious, leading to the club unwittingly participating in the cover-up. It was only in early August, a month after misleading the original disciplinary panel, that he told Evans the truth. By that time, Harlequins were sliding headlong into disgrace.
Damning evidence: Extracts from the ERC report
"The fact that Mr Richards was hoping to appear before the appeal committee as a witness instead of an accused and the way in which he was 'ducking and diving' spoke volumes. He was now arguing, for the very first time, that ERC had no jurisdiction to bring the case against him... The ERC was astonished by the audacity of Mr Richards in advancing this argument and also by the manner in which he was trying to 'wriggle out of his responsibilities'." Max Duthie, solicitor, representing European Rugby Cup
"The appeal committee were entitled to take the view they did not believe a word Mr Richards said." Mr Duthie
n "Mr Richards said he had faked or attempted to fake blood injuries a few times before. The chairman asked if this had 'worked' on previous occasions. Mr Richards said it had worked once, but not on the other occasions. A player swallowed the capsule on one occasion and the other had dropped it from his mouth." From the official account of Richards' evidence
"Mr Richards assured the appeal committee that it was only himself and Mr Brennan that knew blood capsules were kept in a cupboard at the club." Richards' evidence
"Mr Richards... said he first became aware of the use of fake blood when he was in Grenoble. He confirmed that he was lying during the disciplinary hearing when he said he had never come across the problem before. He said he had never instructed players to be cut as this would be 'tantamount to GBH'." Richards' evidence
"Mr Richards confirmed the only reason he typed up the statements and made alterations to Mr Williams' statement... was to ensure all... were consistent... and so make the lies more believable." Richards' evidence
"The club threw every possible obstacle at the disciplinary committee including arguing against using sample blood capsules as evidence. There was no question of the club having provided substantial assistance in advance of the appeal hearing. The club waited and waited, and then at the 11th hour came clean, when they knew they had no choice." Mr Duthie
"Mr Richards was the directing mind and had 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 Chapman." From the appeal committee judgement
Richards admitted using the blood capsules on four previous occasions since 2005.Reuse content