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Owens: Bloodgate's 10 year anniversary

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'It wasn't in my mind to check whether there was fake blood... I hadn't come across that before or even heard talk of it'

Nigel Owens has admitted there was nothing more he could have done at The Stoop 10 years ago when the Bloodgate saga played out in the infamous Harlequins-Leinster European Cup quarter-final.

The Welsh official was referee on that never forgotten Sunday a decade ago when Quins got winger Tom Williams to bite into a fake blood capsule so that Dean Richards could get his kicker Nick Evans back on the field as a blood sub in a match the Londoners were to lose 5-6.

Writing in his weekly walesonline.com column, Owens reflected how the controversy unfolded and is still incredulous Harlequins tried to cheat their way to victory. 

“Could I have done anything more to prevent the above events unfolding? Probably not,” wrote the referee about a bust-up that would surely have had far deeper repercussions had Leinster not won the quarter-final en route to winning the trophy that season.

“Call me naive and overly trusting, but it certainly didn’t cross my mind that something like that would happen in rugby. I wasn’t qualified to go over and test whether there was fake blood.

(Continue reading below…)

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“Had I asked to see the cut, the people handling Williams could have told me it was at the back of his throat and so wasn’t visible. Not being medically trained, I wouldn’t have been able to agree with that contention or dispute it.

“There has to be an element of trust. In those days, there was no neutral match-day doctor. My concern when Williams left the pitch was to make sure Evans had earlier been substituted for a tactical reason rather than an injury. Had he gone off for the latter, he would not have been allowed to return.

“Once I had established he had been subbed for tactical reasons it was permissible to allow him to replace a team-mate with a blood injury. It wasn’t in my mind to check whether there was fake blood. I’d seen a lot in the game, but I hadn’t come across that before or even heard talk of it.”

The first Owens really knew that something dubious had taken place was when he entered the changing room following the match to be to Leinster had made an allegation concerning the use of fake blood. He went on to add that he had little to do with the ensuing investigation, merely telling those who asked at the inquest what he has seen and done at the time. 

Ten years on from the fall-out, he insisted rugby must continue to be vigilant if it is to keep its integrity. “Some good did come from the episode because it proved a watershed moment for rugby union,” he said. 

“It raised awareness and let people know that our sport can be affected by cheating as much as any other sport. But rugby deals with these issues and we haven’t seen the like of it since — certainly nothing so wild and audacious.

Malcolm O’Kelly (second left) celebrates Leinster’s victory on the final whistle (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“We can’t take the moral high ground as things do go on in our sport that are unacceptable but rugby tends to deal with the issues firmly but fairly.

“I don’t want to come over all preachy, but no matter how much cash is involved, we have to uphold the integrity of the game. This was more than gamesmanship and pushing the boundaries.

“It was cheating and bringing the game into disrepute. There’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed in sport. Sadly, a decade ago, such a border was crossed.”

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'It wasn't in my mind to check whether there was fake blood... I hadn't come across that before or even heard talk of it'