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Six-month betting ban for Blake

Published 25/06/2015

Phil Blake has been banned for betting breaches
Phil Blake has been banned for betting breaches

Former Leicester defence coach Phil Blake has been hit with the first Rugby Football Union ban for breaching anti-corruption and betting rules.

The Australian former rugby league utility back has been banned for six months after being found guilty of betting on Leicester Tigers matches.

Blake has set an unwanted precedent after placing bets on Leicester's December 13 Champions Cup tie with Toulon and the Tigers' Premiership meeting with Newcastle Falcons on March 8.

The 51-year-old was fined £669, the profits on his bets, ordered to pay costs of £500 and has been banned from rugby-related activity until November 24, 2015.

The former Australia coach's bets were spotted by a keen-eyed employee at Leicester's Grosvenor Casino, who realised he was a coach at the Welford Road club.

Blake told an RFU disciplinary panel: "Having my whole career on the line for a minimum gain is something I will regret for the rest of my life."

Under the RFU's Regulation 17 rugby professionals are prohibited from betting on any match within any competition involving their team.

Blake placed bets on touch-screen self-service machines at Leicester's Grosvenor Casino, lodging four separate bets for the Toulon match on Thursday, December 11, backing his club at a handicap of plus 18.5 points.

Blake's bet meant he would win if Leicester won the match, or lost by fewer than 19 points. Toulon won 23-8.

Blake then placed four further bets for the Newcastle Falcons match on a visit to the casino on Friday, March 6.

Leicester beat Newcastle 16-12 so Blake's bets were successful again.

A casino employee spotted "unusually high amounts" placed on the machines involving bets on Leicester Tigers in December, before noting the same pattern in March.

After checking casino CCTV footage for March 6 the employee recognised Blake from his membership, then checked the Leicester website to confirm he was part of the Tigers' backroom staff.

When Blake attended the casino again on Saturday, March 14 he was told he had broken the self-service machine rules by betting on his own team and told he could no longer use the machines. Blake left and did not return to the casino.

When informed of the RFU investigation, Blake explained by letter: "I had no knowledge of the specific regulations relating to gambling under the jurisdiction of the RFU.

"I am, of course, aware that it is not appropriate, in most jurisdictions, to gamble against one's own team, but I was not aware of the exact regulations that pertain in the UK.

"I saw some very favourable odds on Tigers to beat Newcastle and thought that there would be little harm arising from my betting on Tigers to win, as, obviously, it is my professional duty to try and do everything possible to ensure that Tigers did, in fact, win.

"I put the bet on against Toulon in very similar circumstances.

"I accept, with hindsight, that I could have made money even if Toulon had won the game but I never saw it in this light when making the bet and it was never my intention to bet against my own team.

"No one could be more sorry than myself that this incident has taken place."

Blake joined Leicester for the 2014/15 season but was not retained at the end of the campaign.

According to the RFU's full judgement report, Blake's lawyer Ray Tully "acknowledged the need for deterrence" but told the disciplinary hearing: "These were unsophisticated breaches which did not undermine the integrity of the sport".

Blake lodged an appeal but that was dismissed with costs ordered at £500, by an RFU Appeal Panel chaired by Antony Davies with Gareth Rees QC and Tim Ward QC on Monday 22 June 2015.

Christopher Quinlan QC, who chaired the initial disciplinary panel, admitted the case set a new RFU precedent.

"This is the first such case that we know of in rugby union and is certainly the first brought under the relatively new Regulation 17 so this is new ground," he said.

"In arriving at the appropriate sanction we have been careful to remind ourselves that we must not make an example of Phil Blake.

"We have imposed a sanction which we consider fair and proportionate to what he did, while having due regard to the proper consideration of deterrence.

"We have sought to strike a proper balance between the competing factors and arrive at a sanction we consider to be just.

"We must have regard to the wider interests of the game. It is important that those involved in the game and the wider public understand that any breach of the anti-corruption and betting regulations will and must be treated seriously."

Leicester issued a statement backing the RFU panel's decision.

The Tigers' statement read: "We acknowledge the decision of the disciplinary hearing in relation to the conduct of Phil Blake and the panel's views on betting within professional sport.

"The club also fully endorses the governing body's regard for the wider interests of the game in respect of any breaches of the anti-corruption and betting regulations.

"Phil Blake was under contract for the 2014/15 season and is no longer employed by Leicester Tigers. The club would, however, like to place on record, as it did during his time at Leicester, that he was a popular and valued member of the coaching team and we hope he is fully able to return to the game in a suitable capacity at the end of the period laid down by the disciplinary hearing."

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