Harlequins + Tom Williams – Cheats or Chancers?

It has been reported that an independent disciplinary panel on behalf of the ERC has handed out a whopping £215,000 fine to Harlequins and banned Tom Williams, their winger, for 12 months.

If you’ve seen the incident that was the cause of this investigation in the Heineken Cup quarter-final it seemed fairly clear what happened at the match and that some form of sanction was warranted.

For those who haven’t observed the event essentially Harlequins’ two fly-halves, Nick Evans and Chris Malone, were injured during the match leaving the Quins side with the shaky kicking form of full-back Mike Brown to rely on to get them into the semis. Tom Williams had come on as a replacement in the 69th minute and then left the field in the 75th minute with a blood injury.

As Williams left the field he winked at the Harlequins bench, an action which was caught on camera, which implied he perhaps wasn’t really injured at all. Although Evans had left the field in some discomfort in the first half, the fact that his injury had been marked as a “tactical” one meant he was allowed to return to the fray as a blood substitution.

Despite Leinster’s protestations Evans returned to the field and duly missed the dropped goal attempt that would probably have clinched the game for Quins.

Whilst the actions of Harlequins and Williams were reprehensible, if he did have a cut to his mouth then the substitution was, at worst, gamesmanship but within the laws. If he faked the injury and a blood capsule was used then he and the team had cheated. Which of those two scenarios is correct has not yet been revealed.

However, even if the latter were true, does it warrant a 12-month ban for the player? Is the team fine understandable?

Any thoughts or opinions would be much appreciated.

46 thoughts on “Harlequins + Tom Williams – Cheats or Chancers?

  1. It seems pretty ridiculous to me – ridiculous that the player now has a 12-month ban (compared to 8 months for cocaine and 8 weeks for gouging), ridiculous that the management have been absolved of any wrong-doing and claimed the grand plan was all Williams’ idea, ridiculous to suggest that he had a blood capsule to fake an injury, and if he did have a blood capsule to fake an injury – that’s ridiculous.

  2. I have never seen blood that red…..except on a stage!! It is pretty clear what happened but I agree that the real perpetrators seem to have got away with it. Maybe Richards et al could apply to become make up artists. The Quins are clearly cheats!!

  3. I think it is the constancy issue, 8 weeks for eye gouging (which probably out of them all would get you the biggest conviction if it happened on the street with the damage that could be sustained by the victim), 8 months for drug abuse and then out of no-where we get 12 months for ‘cheating’. It feels like a lottery to what players will receive and they need to review the whole system. As for the possible use of a blood capsule, where did he keep it until it was needed?! How did they know it would be needed? Is it something they do in every big match, carry a blood capsule just in case they need to cheat!

  4. John – he might have been very well oxygenated with plenty of iron in his blood!

    I am not a Quins fan but i am a Tom Williams fan – he always seems to play to the best of his ability and has a genuine turn of pace to scare defenders. I feel like forming a vigilante mob at the injustice of his punishment – i read somewhere that the severity of the punishment might just be to get the Quins to appeal and thus reveal what exactly they were doing. If that’s the case then it all adds to the ridiculousness of it all from the first post.

    How can they take potentially one of the best years of a young player’s career away from him because he may have faked a minor injury when an action that might cause a player to lose their sight, and thus their whole career, gets a slap on the wrists! There’s no justice!

  5. I’m a Leinster fan and it was clearly some blatent “gamesmanship” on the part of Harlequins. But having won the match it hasn’t really been a sore point (obviously!). I think the fine would have been enough, maybe a short ban for the player – but a year is extremely harsh, especially considering how leniant the governing bodies have been of late in issuing bans for dangerous play. I think bannig the club from the Heineken Cup for a season would have even been a fairer decision.

  6. This is a joke!!!

    I am now begging the editors of rugby blog and its readers to start some form of petition against the IRB. How can they justify giving Tom Williams a 12 month ban for something which they cannot even prove, but yet only hand out an 8 week ban for Burger’s eye gouging offence, which was pretty clear cut! I think the real criminals in the whole scheme of things are the people giving out these sentences. Now I’m sure the IRB will defend their actions by saying Tom Williams and Quins have brought the game into disrespute. Well my answer to that would be why are SA not being banned for 12 months after their arm band protest against Bakkies ban? Or are they trying to say supposed cheating is a worse offence than players committing dangerous offences i.e Burger (8 wk ban – eye gouging on Fitzgerald), Botha (3 wk ban – dangerous clearing out – Jones is out for 6 months), Quinlan (12 wk ban – eye gouging on Cullen) – thats just 3 of the top of my head in the last few months – the list goes on! There is on consistency to any form of the game at the moment, it’s been like it for years now, and it’s now spirialing out of control. Maybe as a sport we should look to break away from the IRB (similiar to current talks about grand prix) and reinvent the game under a new governing body, one which is fair, equal, consistent and actually understands how to control the game, its teams, its players and its own laws!!!

  7. Completely agree that the ban to Williams is absurd. If it was a blood capsule, of which there is no evidence other than that he winked at the bench, then he may have been the perpetrator but I can’t imagine he was the mastermind of the whole thing. The management must have given it the go-ahead, the physio taken it on to the field. They would have done it no matter who the player was. In which case Williams’ crime is being in the wrong place at teh wrong time which made him complicit. The management must have been behind it.
    But compared to some of the other laughable bans we have seen recently, it is ridiculous. Can only think that the RFU are making an example of him to deter others from even thinking about it.

  8. I’m up for a petition or something, this completely absurd. I really can’t imagine
    Quins having Blood-capsules handy on the bench, if they did then it was premeditated cheating and deserves an huge punishment, a punishment for the club that is not a guy doing what his bosses tell him to do. He is not the criminal here.

    However suggessting that there is this kind of cheating going on in rugby is far more serious and nobody wants to go there, far easier to blamre one player make him suffer and move on with things. Look how we handled Matt Stevens, put our foot down and made it clear. We made it so clear that the entire Bath team gets caught doing drugs a few months later. Well done.

  9. Williams probably deserves a 12-month ban for stupidity at winking to the bench…but not for his part in the episode. Like everyone else, I can’t believe Quins would store a blood capsule in preparation. It was dodgy, yes. It was the height of bending the rules, and the club / team / management deserve sanctions. But then again, is it not just an extension of the ‘professional foul’. Was it cheating any more than the ‘Hand of Back’ incident in the Heineken final?

  10. Has the club denied there was a blood capsule involved? Can’t imagine that it is a standard part of the physio’s medical kit. Sounds highly implausible. If there was no blood capsule involved (and in the absence of proof positive, the authorities should assume not) then it amounts to nothing more than gamesmanship as others have said – making the most of the rules. I would compare it to some teams’ deliberately manipulating the uncontested scrum rules. In which case 12 months is obscene.

  11. Interesting you bring Matt Stevens up Ronbraz as thats another example of how inconsistant the disciplinary sentences are. Stevens was banned for 2 years for taking drugs – at least the bloke held his hands up, admitted he had a problem and apologised where Justin Harrison has just been given an 8 month ban for the same offence, however he jumped on a plane straight back to Oz when the allegation was put forward and has made no attempt to apologise to anyone. How did he escape with a 14 month lesser sentence? I’m unsure if Lipman, Crockett and Higgins will be sentenced by the IRB or ERC, but if they are, it’ll be interesting to see what they are given. At this stage I’m guessing a £5 fine and the number of their dealer lol.

    My personal views on the Tom Williams and Quins issue is that the fine is reasonable – should be enough to put others off attempting it, but not enough to ruin a club, however the 12 month ban is a joke, even more so because they can’t actually prove anything more than suspicion. I would say a 3 month ban for Tom Williams for bringing the game into disrespute would have been enough – although in light of other players sentences of late, even that would have seemed over the top

  12. We’d be happy to start a campaign against this sort of thing, but probably needs some thought about how best to do it. Does anyone know if a petition has ever changed anything?!

    Ronbraz, did you have anything in mind?

  13. Not sure if a petition has ever actually changed anything, bit it is definitely worth trying. Or we could do what the French do and revolt – seems to work for them! lol

  14. Apparently the footage shown to the tribunal showed Williams put something in his sock shortly before going on the field and then taking something out of his sock and putting it in his mouth before walking off and winking at the bench. Sounds reasonably conclusive but, given that a young player is hardly going to go against the orders of his management in such a tight situation, the sanction on the player is very harsh, especially as none has gone to the management.

    Uncle Mat, I think the uncontested scrums analogy is an excellent one. Has anyone noticed that many many more games seem to go to uncontested scrums now which suggests teams are manipulating the rules to their advantage? The obvious remedy here is a 3rd front row subsitute. But there have been some very dodgy examples which have gone unpunished, largely because it is so hard to prove. At Twickers a couple of years back when Sheridan was having the Aussie scrum for breakfast, Matt Dunning (or it may have been Ben Darwin) went down injured, the game was stopped for 10 minutes and he was carted off with a seemingly very serious neck injury. He was fit to play the next week. That’s just one example of many.

  15. That’s a good idea Tommy, we could all strike!

    I’ve done a quick search – you can start a petition on the Number 10 government site, but that’s not really what we are after. You can also do it on Twitter, but not likely to be a catch-all!

    There is a site called Petition.co.uk that seems generic enough…

    Is it specific against the Tom Williams sanction, or do you think we should campaign against every stupid decision the IRB has made in the last few months??

  16. I would say its got to be against the inconsistencies of the game, which the IRB are allowing to happen i.e. the disgraceful disciplinary sentences, the joke that is standards of world refereeing, creating then abolishing new and stupid laws (ELVS) and the huge variations between Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere rugby.

    I for one would be happy to be involved in some kind of action. Let me know where to sign or what I can do to help

  17. Also, if the ERC had such definitive evidence then how come only the player got such a harsh sentence? Players don’t do things like that without management knowledge! For me. this is just another display of the inconsistencies of disciplinary sentences!

  18. Agree that it should be fairly generic. We could start some sort of campaign called ‘Don’t Ruin Our Game’ with a statement of all the examples of rubbish decisions that have been made.

    Taking on the IRB probably isn’t the most sensible course of action, but if we position ourselves as the voice of the fans, and that they should run some decisions by the fans (I’m thinking ELVs!) before implementing them.

    Feel free to post more examples that we can package up under ‘Don’t Ruin Our Game!’

  19. I’d go for a one issue petition – from my (very limited) knowledge of such things i think bringing lots of different gripes to the attention of the governing bodies would reduce the impact of each one and it would make it easier to be brushed away.

    What i think would work better is to force the ERC to answer a specific petition. I.e. The justification for Tom Williams’ ban.

  20. Personally I think if we were to attempt to take on the IRB, we might as well raise all the issues (see my previous comments), and to do it right wouldn’t be on overnight exercise. It would take a fair while to gather research, examples, evidence, support etc, but I do think the notion is possible, but the key to having any chance of making the right impact would be to package our “don’t ruin our game” campaign as one which provides the IRB with a catologue of inconsistencies, not just one offs, and then ask the IRB to explain how they justify their actions and what they intend to do to resolve these issues. I would expect we would gather support in the hundreds and thousands of supporters, players (amateur/semi pro/pro), coaches (amateur/semi pro/pro), ref’s (amateur/semi pro/pro) etc, all over the world. Everyone I seem to speak to regarding these issues all share the same thoughts, however people are just waiting for someone else to start the action, and once started I don’t think we would be short of sympathisers.

  21. He cheated, he was caught cheating (there is video evidence unseen by the public that proves he cheated), he brought the game into disrepute big time, neither club or player have denied he cheated, the football goalie who did the same thing was banned for life and you guys want to start a petition? Unbelievable.

  22. We’re not arguing with the fact that he got caught cheating, we’re arguing with the sentence. We want to petition against the inconsistency to the disciplinary sentencing and that is what people don’t agree with. You say Williams brought the game into “disrespute big time”, well SA brough the game into major disrespute with their armband “justice for bakkies” protest, but yet will they receive a 12 month ban? Or how about eye gouging offences? Quinlan got 12 weeks and Burger got 8 weeks for the same offence. Or how about drug taking offences? Stevens got a 2 year ban, where Harrison got an 8 month ban for the same offence. Are these lesser offences? If not, then why have these players (bar Stevens) received such low sentences in comparison? No one is arguing that players that commit offences should not be punished, we simply want to see players punished with consistency and proportionate to their offence

  23. Or how about PDV’s comments about how eye gouging is part of the game? Surely thats bringing the game into “disrespute big time”? But will he face a 12 month ban?

  24. I could be wrong, but I think the goalie who ‘did the same thing’ was playing in a world cup, cut open his own face with a concealed razor and tried to get the match abandoned! Slightly more severe than chewing on a blood capsule to fake an injury for substitution?!

    I think ‘Quins should definitely have sanctions imposed – perhaps even points deducted, as it really is despicable cheating when so obviously pre-meditated. I do agree that Williams shouldn’t be the scape goat though, it would take a very brave man to refuse to do the bidding of Dean Richards! A couple of weeks match ban for Williams should suffice.

    I must say though that I am disgusted by the disrepute the game has been thrown into in recent months – do you think these problems have always been infesting our sport and our only now becoming clear with increased media coverage? As an amateur player I have come across the odd gouge every now and then, but I have never associated drugs with our sport nor pre-meditated cheating.

  25. Crash their site?

    i really don’t know if a petition would have any affect, boycotting one of
    England’s matches would be the ultimate but I can’t really see that happening. Maybe we could decide on a day and completely bombard the IRB server with
    E-mails, with any luck we could get it to crash.

    Other than that I don’t know.

    What do you think James ?

  26. I’m not sure crashing their server would make them think, “We must let Tom Williams play again, and we should be more consistent with our sentences.” It would just be a bit annoying for 5 minutes. A petition is probably a waste of time as well.

    There might be potential to write to them, quoting some of their stranger decisions, and try to start a dialogue between the governing body and the game’s supporters. I’ll give it some thought over the weekend.

  27. The case has a number of complications which need to be taken together to understand why Williams has received such a long ban.

    1. There was a concious effort by more than Williams to carry ou this scam. However, Williams appears to have been the only one with a case proven against im.

    2. Williams has, for whatever reason, decided not to divulge who else was involved. This makes his offence all the worse, because he has not allowed the Disciplinary Panel to find out where the idea originated.

    3. The club have shamefully kept silent over their part in the scam, particularly Dean Richards and the medical staff involved. They appear to have allowed Williams carry the can and just copped for a fine for a non proven case against other individuals.

    Never mind petitions to reduce the ban. The effective way of gaining a fair and proportionate sentence for the player is this:

    Harlequins coaching and medical staff request a personal hearing in front of the ERC. At this hearing they fully confess the background into what went on, and explain the part Williams had in the affair.

    Give the ERC the full facts and allow them to make a proper judgement. As long as Harlequins hide behind Williams they stain the name of Harlequins and the game of Rugby.

  28. Although there appears to be no definitive proof available to us at the moment, there is most certainly a very nasty smell about the whole affair. If I was a Quins official or supporter, I would be feeling thoroughly ashamed. Should the case be proved-and will Quins dare to appeal-then the club should face the very stiffest punishment available to the authorities. Alternatively, if the club do not appeal, and just hang Williams out to dry, then we will all know just what went on.

  29. He has been made an example of, all the club personel bought before the tribunal refused to provide information so the only person they could punish was Tom Williams, so he has taken a fall for the club. If the club or Tom Williams appeal they will have to provide information that will probably be damming and will probably bring more staff into the firing line so they find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

    There is no room in the game for pre-meditated, organized cheating of this level and the punishment fits the crime.

  30. if the practice is as common as is being whispered …then you have to admire the ERC for having the balls to confront the issue, regardless of who the clubs are, I suspect Quins are no worse or better than anyone else, they just got caught on.

    bigger issue is the guilt of the club versus the player…if they sack him,,,,his fault, hung out to dry, he can sue the club for giving him the blood capsule,

    if they pay him for the year…..their fault, and opens the wider question about who premeditated what…..not a pretty scenario for any of the management team

    perhaps a situation where quins say….hands up , we are caught on, everyone does it, and the fines/ban are reduced and everyone agrees not to do it any more….

  31. It seems to me the whole “blood injury” area is open to abuse. To police it effectively you would need independent, medically trained persons to come onto the field with the physios every time a) in case the injury proves to be a genuine “blood” and b) to verify that it hadn’t been self- or physo-inflicted. (How many of you are aware that in top level rugby league it is common for physios to keep a razor blade in their medical kit for that very purpose?) Such a regime is clearly a non-starter, other than perhaps at the very highest levels. Far better to use harsh punishment as a deterrent to future infractions, on the few occasions when it can be proved. But I agree that in this case the main weight of the punishment should have fallen on the club, not on the player. And, incidentally, a 12 month ban for eye-gouging would not be unreasonable and would probably put a stop to it once and for all.

  32. Al last something is being done about cheating. Let us hope that they also impose the same ban on Leicester, who did exactly the same thing in the semi-final just before the penalty shoot-out. The first use of cheating blood replacements was exposed by Richard Cockerill at the 1999 World Cup and has gone on for 10 years unchecked. Why has it been allowed to carry on so long unabated?

    Regarding the length of the ban, I am sure the fact that it was totally planned in advance has a lot to do with it.

  33. The whole issue of punishment v crime needs to be looked into. 12 month’s for cheating is a lot compared to 8 weeks for gouging, but if Burger had received 18 months for that would we all be complaining? My biggest issue with this other than the disparity in punishments dished out, is that there does not appear to be any proof of this cheating. Excuse me if I am wrong on that, but if not then what happened to innocent until proven guilty? Oh and please don’t try to persuade me that Tom Williams just happened to have a blood capsule on him. That had to be supplied by someone so where is their punishment?

  34. There are those who are trying to excuse Williams’ actions by suggesting he was just ‘following orders’ – a bit like the SS at Auschwitz. If this is the case, I would call it lack of moral fibre. I can’t see Bill Beaumont or Fran Cotton agreeing to such a thing. Williams now has 12 months to contemplate ‘gamemanship’ and its effects on the game!

  35. As a Quins fan, I have to say that I’m really dissapointed that they felt they had to resort to this level if indeed they did. What I must say though is that cheating in some form or another has gone on in rugby, probably since the game began. It is in some cases the stuff of legends, how many club dinners do we attend when some great of the game waxes lyrical about who did what to who, how they got away with this or that. For example I don’t remember Leicester being fined after the famous ‘hand of Back’ incident. Or in rugby is cheating only cheating if it’s really sneaky.
    As for the sanction, Tom Williams if he did it which I have to say looks likely, is an idiot but 12 months is rediculous as many agree when you only get 8 weeks for gouging. My view and this is that if proved, Quins should be banned from European rugby for a season, I cannot believe they weren’t complicit inTom’s actions.

  36. Admittedly the sentence looks somewhat harsh but the evidence pretty well proves cheating. We do not want the habits of association football where players lie prostate or roll over in agony and minutes later are back on the field playing normally.

    There is too much of the soccer/television sensation hype coming into the game and the Tom Williams affair is one example.It needs to be stopped dead in its tracks- NOW

  37. I always believed rugby to be a honourable game and you really only found the cheats (divers and theatrical injuries) in soccer. Harlequins are a disgrace to rugby and the 12 month ban is too lenient. The club should have been severely punished.

  38. “…but the evidence pretty well proves cheating”, “He cheated, he was caught cheating (there is video evidence unseen by the public that proves he cheated), “, All of this is suposition until we see the transcript of the hearing, none of us have seen the evidence.
    “Apparently the footage shown to the tribunal showed Williams put something in his sock shortly before going on the field and then taking something out of his sock and putting it in his mouth before walking off and winking at the bench. Sounds reasonably conclusive” Sorry, but conclusive of what exactly?
    “Has the club denied there was a blood capsule involved?” Has the club siad anything in the public domain, we have no idea what was said at the tribunal.
    “Williams probably deserves a 12-month ban for stupidity at winking to the bench” What sort of ban would you suggest if he had waved at the same time, presumably a lifetime ban?
    Just a few comments from a Quins fan. Lets all wait and see what the transcript reveals or not. My point is simply that none of us knows what happened, circumstantially it does not reflect well on the club but it is all a matter of degree. There is no doubt that stretching the rules, gamesmanship, cheating (whatever you choose to call it) has always gone on in the game, I don`t like it any more than anyone else. Does anybody believe that there is a team in the Premiership who have not been guilty of something dodgy to get a result?

  39. As mother of a boy who gave up football completely 2 yrs. ago, (much to the chagrin of his father, a lifelong football supporter) because he got sick of “all the diving & cheating”; I, or rather, we are saddened about all this.

    Perhaps it’s a simplistic view, but please guys, remember there are young lads out here watching rugby, looking up to the players.

    What happened looks soo wrong, not unlike the Ronaldo/Rooney incident.
    Don’t minimize it by comparing it to other offenses.

    My son, the whole family, (even Dad!) love rugby now because of the idea of
    “Wild animals on the pitch, gentleman off the pitch”. I sincerely hope this sport doesn’t go the way of football. Good to see so many comments from people who care about the integrity of the reputation of the sport.

    This mother thanks and salutes you for giving hope to my son who read this board…

  40. A ban or fine was deserved. But, a 12 month ban for Williams is extremely harsh. Thats a whole year….He is basically out of a job. It must be heart breaking for him. It doesn’t seem like Dean Richards cared about his player….Im sure he could have done more to support and help his player. The punishment has to be reduced….It doesn’t make sense in regards to other bans for gouging and dangerous tackles. This will always be brought up now when someone is caught wrong doing…..We have not heard the last of this…..Munster fan!

  41. As Quins season ticket holders, my husband and I are bemused at the silence from the Club since the ruling was handed down. The whole incident leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (no pun intended) – and a rather ambivalent feeling towards a Club we have loved and supported in the past.

  42. The whole Harlequins Williams “fake blood” scenario is an utter sham. Have the hierarchy actually “caught” Quins cheating? Is there actual video evidence of the blood capsule being inserted into his sock and then put into his mouth during the game? If so, why not release it to the Rugby public. I am an Irish Quins fan who manages to take in two or three home games a year and am now denied the excellence of Tom Williams due to draconian judgements. To punish a player for winking (therefore cheating!!) is ludicrous. Does this mean that any time a captain is talking to a referee and is smiling that they are in cahoots? Clearly it does according to the interpretations of the game. The Springboks should therefore get a huge ban due to their quite simply embarrassing display of support for Bakkies Botha and total disregard for Rugby disciplinary procedures. Somehow, I can’t see them getting any more than a paltry fine of slap on the wrist.

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