A leading surgeon said today “Bloodgate” would not have happened if he had been allowed to inspect the bogus mouth injury of a rugby player.
Leinster matchday doctor Professor Arthur Tanner said he was stopped from entering the Harlequins dressing room as his opposite number cut the lip of a player to cover up the ruse.
Yesterday, Dr Wendy Chapman said she was ashamed that she succumbed to “huge pressure” from Harlequins winger Tom Williams, who wanted to conceal that minutes earlier he had bitten into a fake-blood capsule.
His so-called injury meant a specialist goal kicker could come on to the pitch in the dying minutes of last April’s Heineken Cup rugby union quarter-final tie against eventual champions Leinster, who held on to win 6-5.
Dr Chapman has already admitted almost all the charges levelled against her by the General Medical Council, which says her conduct on the matchday and at a later European Rugby Cup (ERC) disciplinary hearing was likely to bring the profession into disrepute and was dishonest.
Today, Prof Tanner – a former Leinster player and current director of surgery at Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons – told the GMC fitness to practice hearing that the game of rugby would “get over” Bloodgate but Dr Chapman had “perhaps suffered a lot more”.
He told the panel hearing: “Had I been able to inspect the mouth it would have been obvious that there was no injury and no-one would have had to inflict an injury. It would have been over in an instant.
“I have no doubt if we had been able to call their bluff and he was sent back on to the field then that would have been the end of it.”
Williams had come on the pitch as a substitute, but came off himself in the 75th minute with blood apparently gushing out of his mouth which allowed New Zealander Nick Evans to return to the field as a blood replacement and attempt to kick a winning goal.
Blood replacements are substitute players temporarily brought on to the pitch while players with blood injuries receive treatment.
Prof. Tanner said the team’s suspicions were first aroused when Evans was seen warming up pitchside not long after limping off from the game at The Stoop ground on April 12 last year.
“One of the technical staff with me ran over as Tom Williams was coming off and said that cannot be a real blood injury,” he said.
“I went over and it was quite obvious that what was coming out of his mouth was not blood. I knew instantaneously.
“I was remonstrating with the fourth official that there was something underhand but he was having nothing of it.
“When he (Williams) came off I asked that I be allowed at pitchside to examine the injury. I was obstructed from doing so by officials.
“I followed him down the tunnel after trying to argue with the referee and fourth official and getting nowhere.
“I went down to assess his injury as that was my right.
“I tried to enter the changing room. I was barred, I was not able to examine him.
“There was a lot of shouting. I could not hear what was being said apart from some expressions about keeping me out that I would rather not repeat.”
He added: “I could see the kerfuffle going on from the open door of the medical room to the changing room. Somebody shouted and the door was shut in my face.
“I banged on the door but couldn’t get in.”
Prof. Tanner said he then returned to the field before the tie ended and following Leinster’s victory wrote the incident off as “petty” and “clumsy”.
He agreed his feelings would have been “totally different” if his team had gone on to lose.
“The semi-final was two weeks later. There would have been no way to mount an appeal in that time so we would not have been in the semi-final,” he said.
Prof. Tanner was asked to explain why he gave a newspaper interview after the scandal was uncovered in which he said he sympathised with Dr Chapman.
“My feelings I suppose for Dr Chapman revolved around the aftermath,” he said. “Perhaps her career and reputation has suffered a lot more. Rugby will get over it, no problem.
“When all the punitive hearings are over, rugby will learn from this. Perversely, you can say it has helped. There was certainly a grey area over blood replacements.
“I think the public, more than anything else, was dismayed about not only the cheating act but the subsequent cover-up by Dr Chapman. However, certainly within a rugby environment there does not seem to be the same apportion of blame.
“I do not see how this puts at risk public safety.
“We are all human. Dr Chapman is a doctor and that should override everything else but the environment that occurred that day was something that I had never experienced in professional rugby.”
The initial ERC disciplinary hearing last July cleared Dr Chapman of conspiring to get Evans back on the pitch.
After she was acquitted as a defendant she then effectively gave evidence as a prosecution witness, where she backed up the club’s initial version of events that the injury was real.
Dean Richards (then Harlequins director of rugby) was given a three-year ban by the ERC appeals panel after Williams later changed his evidence and told the truth.
It emerged during the hearing that Richards ordered fake blood injuries on four other occasions and orchestrated the “Bloodgate” cover-up.
Williams’ initial 12-month ban was reduced to four months after his admission of the capsule use, club physio Steph Brennan – said to have given the capsule to the player – was banned for two years and the club itself was fined £258,000 (€315,000).
Dr Chapman is currently suspended from practicing medicine pending the outcome of the hearing in which she could be struck off.