Richards banned over 'Bloodgate'

Former Harlequins coach given three-year punishment for part in fake blood scandal
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The former Harlequins coach Dean Richards was banned from coaching for three years by an European Rugby Cup independent committee last night for his part in the Harlequins "Bloodgate" scandal.

Richards, 46, was found to be at the centre of a cover-up over an incident in Quins' Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster in April in which wing Tom Williams faked a blood injury. Williams, originally banned for 12 months over the incident, has seen his punishment reduced to just four months. The club's sanction of €250,000 (£215,000) with half suspended has been increased to €300,000 (£258,500) to be paid in full.

Former England forward Richards was also found to have been involved in four similar cover-ups, hence the severity of his punishment, which applies to ERC-organised tournaments but which the ERC will request is extended worldwide. A decision is still to made as to whether Harlequins are expelled from this season's Heineken Cup.

Quins officials are thought to have come clean to the tribunal over the circumstances surrounding the bogus substitution of Williams at the climax of last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final with Leinster. Williams left the field with fake blood pouring from his mouth, a ruse that allowed the injured goal-kicker Nick Evans to return to the field for one last shot at goal.

The original disciplinary panel delivered its verdict on Harlequins last month, dismissing the case against Richards and two members of the back-room staff - the doctor Wendy Chapman and the physiotherapist Steph Brennan.

The disciplinary officer of European Rugby Cup Ltd, Roger O'Connor however, appealed against the leniency of the sanction imposed on the club and the decision to acquit Richards, who resigned last weekend, and the others.

In a statement, Harlequins said that they are hoping to draw a line under the saga. "Whilst the club are pleased that Tom Williams' ban has been reduced, we feel this is a very significant penalty in terms of fine," it read.

"We will now continue with our internal review to ensure that we have the most stringent compliance and robust policies and processes in place throughout the club and work towards rebuilding our reputation on and off the field. We hope that the club can now draw a line under what has been a difficult few months, learn from it and move on."

Meanwhile, the Bath players Michael Lipman and Alex Crockett have decided to appeal against the nine-month suspension imposed on them for missing drug tests. A third Bath player, Andrew Higgins, decided not to appeal, but yesterday announced his retirement from the game.

Earlier this month a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel found the trio had failed on two occasions to submit to drug tests when Bath conducted an internal inquiry into allegations of misconduct at an unofficial end-of-season celebration in London.

Crucially the RFU's disciplinary panel dropped charges of drug use at the outset of the four-day hearing.

The 27-year-old Higgins insisted that he had only been concerned with clearing his name regarding drug use, but Lipman and Crockett, both former co-captains of the West Country club, yesterday lodged an appeal not only against the RFU disciplinary panel's decision, but also against the sentence.

Lipman, Crockett and Higgins were among six Bath players who had been linked with allegations of drug use during the celebrations in London on 10 May. All three terminated their contracts with the club at the beginning of June, shortly before they were due to attend the club's internal hearing.

That prompted the RFU to launch an investigation, which resulted in all three being cleared of drug use, but suspended for missing the tests.

Among the half-dozen players under a cloud was Justin Harrison, the former Wallaby lock, who resigned from the club after also failing to take a drugs test, and later he received an eight-month suspension after admitting taking cocaine. Two other players took drug tests and were cleared.