Thursday, 13 August 2009

Has rugby's reputation ever been lower?

When Harlequins turned Bath over at The Rec towards the end of last season, Dean Richards praised his players for being 'streetwise'.

Now the true nature of the streetwise conduct that the former England number eight presided over at Quins has been exposed.

Activating a fake blood capsule during a match would, by most people's definition, constitute rank cheating rather than guilefully pushing the rules of the game.

Deano's future in rugby is now in severe jeopardy after he resigned as Harlequins director of rugby over this Bloodgate scandal, a scandal that, should you be an association football fan and need enlightening, involved wing Tom Williams faking an injury in order to procure Quins an advantage in a key Heineken Cup game.

You might say Richards did the honourable thing by falling on his sword. But he only unsheathed it when the clamour for him to go reached fever pitch and his position became utterly untenable.

Although it should be stressed that nothing has been proven against Richards, it seems fantastical that a player would trot out onto a pitch and activate some theatrical blood without someone in a senior position knowing about it.

Dean Richards comes from an era when players got away with plenty of dirty tricks. With a sly elbow into the kidneys here and the odd downward thrust of the boot there, players pushed the boundaries to see what they could get away with. Such infractions would then (usually) be forgotten about over a couple of ales.

But what happened in the Quins versus Leinster match back in April was on another level and utterly shameful. And certainly not the sort of thing that should be laughed off in the clubhouse afterwards.

What prompted someone in the Quins ranks to perpetrate or commission such a sickeningly base act of anti-sportsmanship can, at this stage, only be a topic of speculation. Some purists might blame the coming of the professional era, arguing that the thirst for a fistful of sterling brings out of the worst in teams.

But professional or amateur, such behaviour is clearly beyond the pale. And it brings the game into disrepute to an equal, if not greater, degree than the misdemeanours of the three ex-Bath Rugby players who shamed rugby last week.

Premier Rugby and the RFU, in conjunction with other administrators, have embarked on a campaign to ensure that drugs do not become any more of an issue in the sport than they have over the past 12 months. Given what's happened at Harlequins – and given the problems the game has got with gouging too – perhaps a wider campaign is needed to weed out all these appalling manifestations of gross foul play and dishonesty.

Should that fail, then perhaps mandatory lifetime bans need to be invoked. But whatever happens, union needs to act firmly and swiftly to eliminate this plague of bad behaviour.

The very reputation of the game is at stake.