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Richards' reputation hits new low

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Simon Austin | 18:21 UK time, Tuesday, 25 August 2009

If Dean Richards thought his reputation had taken enough of a battering in the wake of "Bloodgate", he was sorely mistaken.

The full 38-page transcript of last week's appeals hearing has now been published and it will make uncomfortable reading for even Richards' staunchest supporters.

Tom Williams' no-holds barred testimony portrays a bullying, dictatorial director of rugby who masterminded the faking of the winger's blood injury and the subsequent cover-up.

Richards put his side of the story to Matt Dawson in a frank BBC 5 live Sport interview last week, but these latest revelations will make it even harder for the England legend to recover his standing in the game.

Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans is also badly damaged by the winger's evidence.

When I attended Harlequins' pre-season press day last week, Evans attempted to draw a line under the events of last April, suggesting he had supported the player in his appeal as soon as he was made aware of what had happened.

The 25-year-old player contradicts this, claiming that Evans put immense pressure on him not to give "full disclosure" about what had happened in the closing minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

This means Evans' position at the club will now come under intense scrutiny.

The scale of the cover-up revealed by Williams has further sullied the reputation of Dean Richards.jpg

It is quite clear who Williams believes is the real villain of the piece though, portraying Richards as a dominant, feared figure at The Stoop. "There was no doubt that he was the boss and that he ran the show," Williams told last week's appeal committee in Dublin.

"He did not discuss his decisions with me. He gave directions and these were followed. I did not feel able to challenge his authority - I do not think that I have ever seen another player challenge Dean's authority."

To illustrate this, he recalls how Richards criticised "my going down injured during play and ordered me to attend a camp with the Harlequins rugby league side to harden me up" following a League One match against Plymouth.

Richards denied this story at the hearing, as well as disputing telling the player he was on the fringes of the England squad following an impressive 2008/9 season.

Williams argues it was this fear of Richards that meant he went along with the fake blood scam.

"In hindsight, if I had refused to bite the capsule Dean would have seen that I had disobeyed him and might refuse to play me again," he says. "This could have spelled the end of my career at Harlequins."

Williams recalls the incident, explaining: "With 10 minutes left and the score standing at 6-5 to Leinster... Dean told me to tell Steph Brennan that I would be coming off for blood.

"I understood from what Dean said that I would be coming off at some point before the end of the match with a fake injury, but I had no idea how this would work."

Brennan and Richards disputed this, saying the decision to use the capsule was actually made after the player had entered the fray - and the appeals panel believed their version of events.

Brennan admitted he had faked injuries on four previous occasions, at the direction of Richards, although the former England forward said he could only remember two or three times when this had happened.

Intriguingly, we are told that Brennan had a capsule in his bag "having purchased a quantity... from a joke shop at Clapham Junction (a London train station) on the direction of Dean Richards for use... in faking blood injuries during matches."

Williams remembers Brennan saying something "along the lines of 'do the right thing'" as he handed him the capsule and admits he was faced with a huge dilemma at this moment.

Former Quins physio Steph Brennan (left) gestures to Tom Williams as he leaves the field with the infamous fake blood streaming from his mouth

He also explains the infamous wink he gave team-mate as he left the pitch, explaining it was intended to reassure Jim Evans, who had urged him to stay on the pitch and "tough it out".

Williams' testimony vividly recounts the panic in the dressing room at the end of the match, as the fifth official checked whether the blood coming from the player's mouth was real, while angry Leinster officials banged on the door demanding to see him.

This is when Williams says his mouth was cut with a scalpel by club doctor Wendy Chapman - at his request - to make it appear like he had suffered a real injury.

The player defends Chapman's actions, insisting she "was as much a victim in these matters as me", because of the extreme stress she was under.

Indeed, Williams reveals that Chapman vehemently urged him not to disclose the incident at his appeal, fearing the "potential damage to her career", but that he decided he must come clean about everything that had happened.

The evidence about the behaviour of Richards and Quins in the days and weeks after the match is arguably as damning as Williams' testimony about the actual incident.

He says he was left with no choice but to sign a statement drafted by Richards and was not offered independent legal advice. "I basically did what I was told by Dean", he says.

Then Richards told him he must not tell the lawyers "what had really happened", while the club also urged him against full disclosure.

Williams says Evans explained this could lead to the club being expelled from the Heineken Cup, losing sponsors and Chapman and Brennan being struck off by the club and then suing Quins.

"I understand that Mark then said this would be my responsibility, that I would be regarded by others as the person responsible and that it would be extremely difficult for me at the club should I choose this course of action."

Eventually, club and player reached a compromise agreement, whereby he would make a "partial disclosure" in exchange for a new four-year contract, extra holidays and an apology from Harlequins.

Williams hardly emerges from this part of the episode as an angel. After all, he admits he unsuccessfully pushed the club to pay off his mortgage in exchange for withholding the truth.

There was then an about-turn by the club on 8 August, when chairman Charles Jillings called Williams to tell him Richards had resigned and that the club would now fully support him in "full disclosure".

That wasn't an end to the matter though, as we know, and these latest damaging revelations ensure Bloodgate will rumble on.

Richards and Evans might have attempted to draw a line under the affair last week, but the publication of Williams' revelations means they are unlikely to be afforded that luxury.

* For more up-to-the-minute chat, you can follow me on my Twitter feed

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