Bloodgate curse still lingers
June 2, 2010
Dean Richards has been back in the spotlight © Getty Images
Incredible as it may seem, the cynicism that was at the heart of the Bloodgate scandal, which everybody condemned out of hand, continues to poison the good name of rugby.
Dean Richards, who has served nine months of his sentence, reappeared on the rugby landscape last week when helping Worcester and their owner, Cecil Duckworth, to conduct a review of what went wrong in their relegation season. Richards and his advisors appear to have exploited a legal loop-hole so that the former Harlequins boss can flout the three-year ban imposed on him by ERC.
It is a great shame that the ban was not full and binding - so much so that when asked for clarification disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett was forced to concede that Richards could act as a consultant to Worcester even though few seem to dispute that this was outside the spirit of the sentence.
The lawyers dissected the wording and argued that he was not in breach of the ban because it applied only to "direct coaching or involvement as director of rugby". As a man well versed in legal niceties Blackett was forced to agree.
The RFU then felt obliged to clarify things further but only succeeded in more obfuscation. What are we supposed to make of the following?
"There has been speculation that Dean Richards has been given RFU permission to carry out an ongoing consultancy for the club. That is not within the terms of what has been permitted.
"To be clear the sole action taken by him is that he has overseen the writing of a report into what went wrong at the club last season and made recommendations. This work is now complete and he has no ongoing permission from the RFU to carry out any further work for Worcester or any other club or body. He may not act as a consultant to any club in terms of coaching or other rugby matters."
It is completely contradictory. If he could act as a consultant once, why not again? Duckworth appears intent on pursuing that very point and does not appear flustered by the fact that he has driven a coach and horses through the intentions of the original judgement.
"I am not going to get into a discussion about whether his involvement is in the spirit [of his sanction]," he said. "All I can say is that Dean is probably one of the best brains in rugby and he has been given the all clear to carry out this role."
He then goes on to talk of Richards "rehabilitating" himself at Sixways and says he wants to continue to use him, finishing with the comment that, "it would be disappointing if we couldn't use someone of Dean's ability and experience".
He appears to have acted as a consultant on coaching and other rugby matters, which the RFU say is not permitted, because Worcester have admitted he interviewed staff and players.
I might challenge Duckworth about the extent of Richards' rugby genius. He was stubborn and cussed with immense strength but limited ability as a player and nothing much seems to have changed, but nobody would pretend that his an authority on management or marketing. His expertise is focused on playing and coaching.
The role of Duckworth in all this is very disappointing. He admits to being an out-and-out fan of Richards but does that give him the right to undermine the governance of the game?
I would argue not, particularly as he is a member of the RFU taskforce set up to review cheating in the game. Surely, his stance on this and his determined support of Richards must put him in an untenable position?
The way Richards is being elevated almost to the status of martyr is also worrying. He has been confined to the after-dinner circuit in recent months and has apparently gone down a storm at various rugby clubs.
Lest we forget he instigated and organised the cheating in that Heineken Cup quarter-final and was then found guilty of orchestrating an elaborate cover-up. I was one of those who was shocked by the severity of the ban - I think two years would have sent out a strong enough message - but that does not make his crime any less reprehensible.
"There is no room for such conduct in rugby," declared the RFU. "The IRB operate a zero tolerance policy towards cheating of any form in the game." Strong words, but they mean nothing unless they are carried through in practice. Yet again rugby has tried to claim the moral high ground and has been found wanting.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh