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Owen Smith

Burberry Ltd

Service & Productivity Manager - Emerging Markets

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Integrity, fake blood and “results at all costs”


It’s back to the rugby arena again for this post. Even though we are not in the rugby season at the moment, my not-so-highly esteemed club is grabbing the headlines again. Last season Harlequins were trailing 5-6 to Leinster in the European Cup Quarter finals. They had already substituted their talented first-choice kicker, Nick Evans, due to injury and when their second choice kicker also went off injured, they were left in a desperate position. They got another player to fake a 'blood-injury' with 5 minutes to go, which within the laws of the game allowed Evans to retake the field (though limping heavily) in order to capitalise on his ability with the boot. Desire to win at all costs took over, and the wheels were set in motion for a monumental piece of cheating that went against the very spirit of the game - or did it? At the risk of being highly controversial, rugby is a game that is often won by playing just on the wrong side of the law, giving away deliberate 3-point penalties rather than 7-point converted tries... teams and players build up reputations with this style of play. Like the bluff in poker, this can so distract the opposition from their own gameplan that they work so hard on stopping their opponents winning 'illegal' ball that they take their eye off the main objective and lose all shape and cohesion. Martyn Williams was brilliant at this for the Lions in South Africa this year, as he often is for his own club, Cardiff Blues. One of the reasons I love rugby over football is that there is, generally, none of that theatrical diving and appealing to the ref. Whilst players may show their disappointment with a shake of the head or raising of the eyebrows, they will accept that the decision of the ref is final and don't feel the need to mob and harangue him – they show some respect. There is an unwritten rule that you see how much you can get away with and if you get caught out and the decision goes against you, you accept it as "fair cop, gov" and move on, even if that is a professional foul that results in a sending-off. But is it realistic for a game that is played in culture of ‘break the rules and see what you can get away with’ to be still able to hold its head up high and claim to espouse the values of integrity and respect? When you play or support rugby, you buy-in to the culture of a game that is played in these grey-areas at the edge of the laws of the game. What Dean Richards and the leadership team at Harlequins did in providing the hapless Tom Williams with a fake blood capsule, whilst incredibly stupid, could simply be explained as an extension of the way modern rugby is played on the field. Richards has held his hand up as Director of Rugby, taken accountability and resigned. A great loss to Harlequins as under his leadership over the last few years they have clawed their way back up from the first division to come second in the Premier League this year. So what's my point? Clearly, heart ruled head in this instance and the desire to win ‘at all costs’ took over. Sometimes we need to challenge the culture in which we work, and think about whether we are using this as an excuse to ignore our own values and integrity. We can all get carried away and make crazy decisions that we will live to regret – the chef who is so driven to make a profit that he uses out-of-date products to control costs, the retailer who would refuse a refund to (and therefore lose) every one of her customers because of the minority that might be abusing this trust, the investment banker who after times of prosperity risks it all by chasing his losses and crashes the economy – this is when it’s time to take a breath, be “heads up” and think about the bigger picture, and what our true values really are. And the ultimate ‘result at all costs’ for Quins? The loss of Dean Richards, a legend of rugby as Director, a 12 month ban for Tom Williams, an up-and-coming young player, a £215,000 fine and the likelihood of being kicked out of the lucrative European competition next season. And the end score of that fateful match? We lost, 5-6 to Leinster.

4 Responses

  1. Bizarre
    Great Friday afternoon post Owen (in the run up to the season)

    For me, this was one of the most unusual scenes in recent rugby, as devoted rugby player and fan, this worries me and perhaps suggests the future of rugby could start to look very differently. In 10 and a bit professional years we have seen huge change in the game, much of it has been wonderful, the quality, physique, speed and fitness has improved the game for the spectator and is attracting more youngsters at grass roots level. However, the gentleman’s game is changing, at the top of the game scandals such as this one, an exodus of players chasing the cash with moves to France, ‘celebrity relationships’ such as Danny Cipriani, Mike Tindall (and Ben Foden to lesser extent), recreational drugs seemingly rife amongst professionals arguably mirrors our footballing counterparts

    I am beginning to notice changes at in the lower leagues of amateur rugby also, elements of diving, backchat and poor sportsmanship are creeping into the game! Maybe this is just evolution, but as a back row forward with not so much as yellow card to his name, I might not keep up. However, I don’t see the individual players at fault too much here, money, pressure and profile create an environment to tempt, but what I find interesting level of punishment. A 12 month ban for the talented Williams seems harsh, bearing in mind he’d get a lot less for violence offences, eye-gouging, punching, stamping etc etc. Compare this to a the world of football, Brazilian footballer Rivaldo, famously faked being hit in the face by a ball at the 2002 World Cup resulting in the red card for the Turkish player (which was really just a yellow card offence) – the fine was not more than £5000 and no ban, in football, unsporting behaviour is only punished properly when violent!

    In fact the only example of a cheating footballer being punished for a long period is when Ashley Cole cheated on wife Cheryl, she imposed a 6-month sex ban….

    Come on you Saints – Rob

  2. Innovate or die
    Thanks Rob, glad you enjoyed it. You’re absolutely right about the changing face of the game. It’s all rather catch-22, as it is for many businesses. Do what you’ve always done and feel comfortable doing (in this case stay as a purely amateur sport) and you’ll fail and fade away. Evolve and you’ll stay afloat, but risk changing so much from where you were originally that you’re no longer recognisable. Fortunately I don’t think rugby has moved too far from its roots, and incidents like Quinsgate are mercifully rare. Let’s hope they don’t become commonplace. And finally, on the length of the ban – a strong message, but it feels rather harsh and inconsistent. Williams gets 12 months for faking an injury, whilst Schalk Burger gets only 6 weeks for trying to take someone’s eye out. The leadership at the very top of the game, the IRB, need to look at themselves and ask what sort of message THAT is sending out…

  3. Appeals etc
    Looks like we won’t be seeing Dean Richards for some time… but Williams must be pleased!!

  4. Reprieve
    All rather embarassing really. I think we got off lightly all things considered. And Richards argument that ‘everyone else is doing it’ has only damaged his integrity further, I believe. Whether it’s true or not, it doesn’t make it right.
    Let me know, Rob, when/if you’re down for the Saints match on 20th Feb next year. Be good to put the rugby world to rights over a pint or 2…

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Owen Smith

Service & Productivity Manager - Emerging Markets

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