The ERC announcement earlier this week that it is intent on tightening up player discipline within its European competitions might not have expressly mentioned the now infamous Heineken quarter final between Harlequins and Leinster, but it didn’t have to.
Rugby has been speeding along the road of professionalism relatively smoothly since 1995, with the odd bump here and there, but the so-called “Bloodgate” saga represented a major pothole.
It is hard to believe that the match took place 18 months ago because the reverberations are still being felt, not only in how rugby authorities plan to protect the integrity of the game, but also for the individuals involved. More specifically, an outrageous decision was reached only a few weeks ago when the Harlequins physiotherapist, Steph Brennan, was struck off from his chosen profession.
The list of direct miscreants is as follows: player, Tom Williams; coach, Dean Richards; doctor, Wendy Chapman; and physio Steph Brennan. The indirect bad guys are the rest of the Harlequins squad and coaching staff, as it is inconceivable that knowledge of the tactic was restricted to the four aforementioned individuals.
The respective punishments of the “Bloodgate Four” are as follows: for the player a four-month ban; the coach a three-year ban, the doctor admonishment but exoneration, and poor Steph Brennan gets struck off by the Health Professions Council.
The discrepancy and proportionality of these punishments is startling, particularly when you consider the long-term ramifications.
Tom Williams is already playing again; Deano has been doing some form of coaching consultancy at Worcester and will be able to coach full-time again. In fact, the former Leicester Tiger is currently seeking further clarification on what he is and is not allowed to do during his enforced lay-off. The effect of Deano’s ban gets increasingly blurred and diluted. Dr. Wendy Chapman gets to practise again. Last but certainly not least, Steph Brennan has suffered the ultimate punishment by never again being able to work as a physiotherapist.
I am amazed that more attention has not been given to the last verdict – it’s probably a case of Bloodgate weariness but once again the authorities have got it wrong and the little guy takes the hit.
Brennan’s culpability is based on the fact that he played an active role on not only this occasion, but apparently on at least four other occasions, when he facilitated a capsule being ‘fed’ to a player.
Yes, he has admitted that he has guilt smeared all over him, but he was no more a pawn in this deliberate cheating than the other players, and his biggest failing was that he did not stand up to Dean Richards.
The key question that has never truly been clarified is who thought up and advocated the idea of fake blood capsules being used in the first place? If Brennan is not guilty of this, then he is no more or no less responsible for the decision to cheat than the other players or members of backroom staff who knew about it. If the practice had been used before on other occasions, it surely stands to reason that everyone must have bought into it.
Brennan still has the option to appeal and this will surely be his next course of action. After all, what more does he have to lose? Nonetheless, to those who hope that this is the final act of a sordid play, for Steph Brennan there is no happy ever after, or even a chance to redeem himself in the future unlike the other main protagonists – he is a classic modern-day scapegoat.
The absolute nature of Steph Brennan’s punishment is not only inconsistent, but blatantly unfair, and Dean Richards should hang his head in shame that his actions have cost someone, who should have known better, his livelihood.