ERC reveal explosive Williams testimony
August 25, 2009
Harlequins' banned winger Tom Williams revealed in his testimony that he was under immense pressure to protect the club © Getty Images
The long-running 'Bloodgate' saga has taken a dramatic new twist with the publication of Tom Williams' appeal against his original 12-month ban for faking a blood injury.
The explosive 38-page document reveals that Harlequins winger Williams told an independent appeals committee last week the club had offered him a new four-year contract plus other benefits and claimed in his written testimony that Quins chief executive Mark Evans and chairman Charles Jillings had asked him to refrain from a "full disclosure" in order to protect the club.
Williams was initially handed a 12-month ban - reduced to four months after appeal - for using a fake blood capsule during his side's Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Leinster last season that allowed already substituted fly-half Nick Evans to return to the game. Following the initial ban, Williams said Evans told him the club could face expulsion from the Heineken Cup if he proceeded with a full disclosure appeal.
Williams said he had initially accepted the offer of a new contract - and even admitted demanding even more from the club - but ultimately decided to tell all during last Monday's hearing. Williams' testimony led to director of rugby Dean Richards being banned from coaching for three years and physio Steph Brennan being handed a two-year suspension, while the club were fined just under £260,000.
The appeals committee decided they did not have any jurisdiction in the case of club doctor Wendy Chapman, although Williams told the committee in his evidence that she had deliberately cut his mouth in order to cover up the offence.
The 25-year-old's testimony was made public today when European Rugby Cup published the full written decision of the appeals committee, which convened for almost 14 hours in Glasgow a week and a half ago. It exposes the degree of pressure Williams felt he was under from the likes of Richards, Evans and Jillings to not reveal the full details behind 'Bloodgate'.
The wing explained he had met Jillings on the morning of August 5, around two weeks after deciding to appeal his 12-month ban.
Williams said, "He started by apologising to me for the position I had been placed in. I am sure he was sincere. Charles then laid out a compensation offer to me. This consisted of payment of my salary while I was suspended, an assurance that I would be selected for the team on merit once my suspension ended, a two-year contract extension, a testimonial, a three-year employment opportunity with the club after I retired from playing, and an assurance that he would take a direct interest in my post-rugby career.
"He asked me what I was planning to do in relation to an appeal. Charles told me that he thought I should appeal, but that it should be on a limited basis focusing on the sanction and not the findings of fact.
"Charles said that if the ERC decided to convene a personal hearing and questions were asked of me that might incriminate other parties, I could simply refuse to answer those questions."
Williams revealed he had gone back to Quins demanding an apology, a contract extension on improved terms and that the club pay off the mortgage on his house. He said Quins made a counter-offer which included an apology, a new-four year contract and extra holidays.
During his testimony, Williams detailed a conversation he said he had with Evans in which the chief executive tried to convince him not to tell the truth to the appeals committee.
"In that meeting, Mark was very friendly but outlined the consequences of my appealing on a full-disclosure basis," Williams said. "He told me this route could result in the club being expelled from the Heineken Cup, they would lose sponsors, that Wendy and Steph could be struck off for life and would in turn sue the club. He said it would be worse than relegation. I assumed he was speaking in a financial sense."
Williams also claimed his team-mates had encouraged him not to tell the whole truth, while he said he and Chapman had initially decided to say he had cut his own lip in order to protect her. He insisted Chapman had been placed in an "extremely hostile and tense environment" when he arrived in the physio room having faked injury to allow specialist kicker Nick Evans to return to the field.
Williams revealed the pressure he felt he was under to lie before July's original disciplinary hearing. Explaining he was asked to sign a statement to back up the club's version of events, he said, "The way in which Dean presented it to me made it very clear that I had no real choice in the matter, and that I was expected to sign the club's statement and to toe the club's line."
Although Richards denied in the hearing that the player had no choice, Williams insisted in his testimony he had never felt able to challenge Richards' authority. He claimed the Leinster game was the first time he had been asked to fake a blood injury and that he had no prior knowledge of blood capsules being used in that way.
Richards and Brennan have admitted employing the tactic on previous occasions.
Williams said he felt under pressure to comply to Richards' wishes, adding, "If I had refused to bite the capsule, Dean would have seen that I had disobeyed him and might refuse to play me again. This could have spelt the end of my career at Harlequins. And how would I face my team-mates if my refusal to come off was blamed by Dean for losing us the game?"
Quins chief Evans today declined to comment on Williams' testimony, saying he had yet to read the appeals committee's full written judgement.
The Rugby Football Union today expressed their "concern" at the contents of Williams' testimony but will wait until full details are published of the ERC's appeal against the original sanctions placed on Quins before deciding whether to take further action.
RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett said, "Today's statement introduces new information into the equation which we were not aware of. The material we reviewed over the weekend related only to the additional four occasions on which fake blood was used.
"On these new allegations, difficult though it might be, we must have the full information before we decide on next steps."
Blackett yesterday decided to take no further action against Quins players allegedly involved in previous instances of using fake blood.