BARELY a week has passed in the last six months when the unholy alliance between sports and cheating hasn’t raised its ugly head and one of this year’s most controversial incidents was on the menu again yesterday.
Leinster may be halfway through their crucial back-to-back Heineken Cup double-header with the Scarlets but ‘Bloodgate’ was always going to be front and centre when Mike Ross was on the interview roster yesterday.
Ross was Harlequins’ tight-head prop against Leinster back in April when Dean Richards attempted to ride roughshod over the rules by reintroducing Nick Evans for the ‘injured’ Tom Williams in the European quarter-final.
When all the smoke and mirrors were cleared four months later, Richards was banned from rugby for three years, Williams for four months and Harlequins were hit with a £258,000 fine.
“Richards was very good for me,” said Ross who is named in a fully fit Leinster squad this week. “He gave me a chance to play professionally. I do think that what’s happened to him is quite disappointing really.
“He’d be an asset to any rugby club. He made a mistake, people do make mistakes, but they’ve essentially taken away his livelihood, which I don’t think is a very good thing for anybody.”
Those words will make more headlines in Britain than here where Thierry Henry has grabbed the role of panto villain, but the Corkman has been taken aback by the ongoing fascination with what happened that day at The Stoop.
“I never really expected it to grow legs as much as it did.
“If you look at the fallout from it, they tried to change the course of a game and you should be punished and rightly so, but you can argue about the severity of the punishments they’ve inflicted on various people.” It is unlikely that Ross would be swayed by an alternative opinion. The fact that he shared an agent with Richards was enough to engineer a trial at Quins after he failed to make the breakthrough at Munster and a three-month contract mushroomed into a year and a half.
He had put down four years and over 90 appearances at The Stoop by the time he joined Leinster. Were it not for Richards and Quins, he admits that his rugby career would have ended long ago.
Had that happened, he would probably have ended up playing amateur rugby and working in the biochemistry industry in the US as his wife is American and he has a degree in that area from his days at UCC.
Hardly surprising then that he feels such loyalty to the English club but it isn’t blind. Moving up the ladder with Ireland while based in the Premiership was always going to be a long slog.
“It was a tough, tough ask for me to leave Harlequins because they treated me very well when I was over there but I had a bit of trouble being released for Ireland camps by the PRL (Premier Rugby Limited).
“I knew if I wanted to further my Ireland ambitions I’d need to give myself every opportunity. That was probably best served coming home and I knew Leinster had a great squad. It would do me good to come home.”
Breaking into the Irish set-up is one thing but Ross has had to battle just to get his foot in the door at Leinster where he has just four starts and appeared as a replacement another six.
Though he started the first two European games against London Irish and Brive, he came off the bench last Saturday in Wales when Michael Cheika had all of his front-line props available.
Has it been frustrating? “To a certain extent but that’s the standard of competition in the squad. I didn’t think it would be an easy task coming over here and nailing down a first-team spot. That’s how it’s proved.”
Leinster squad (v Scarlets): Forwards: L Cullen, J Fogarty, C Healy, J Heaslip, N Hines, B Jackman, Stephen Keogh, R McCormack, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, M O’Kelly, M Ross, R Ruddock, D Toner, CJ van der Linde, S Wright.
Backs: S Berne, G D’Arcy, G Dempsey, S Horgan, C Keane, R Kearney, Simon Keogh, F McFadden, I Nacewa, P O’Donohoe, B O’Driscoll, E Reddan.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved