Tom Williams admits 'Bloodgate' will always be with him
"It was a 'win at all costs' culture, and we were trying to do everything we could do to try to be as successful as possible. Clearly we crossed the boundaries."
By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 12/04/19 6:13am
Tom Williams has been speaking on the Will Greenwood Podcast about ‘Bloodgate’, 10 years on from when he was at the centre of the scandal that shook rugby.
On April 12, 2009, Leinster beat Harlequins 6-5 at the Stoop and would eventually lift the Heineken Cup for the first time. But it is the events that took place in the dying moments of their quarter-final for which their route to glory is remembered.
In Harlequins' bid to get the specialist goal-kicker Nick Evans back onto the field, Williams bit on a capsule containing fake blood. What followed was the club's biggest crisis in the club's 153-year history.
Williams served a four-month ban while coach Dean Richards was banned for three years by the ERC. Physio Steph Brennan also received a two-year ban while the club were handed a £260,000 fine.
Despite the passing of time, Williams recalls in a candid interview with Sky Sports he has yet to eradicate the memory of 10 years ago, when his world was turned upside down.
"It's something that will always be with me, as long as I'm in rugby," he told the Will Greenwood Rugby podcast. "In the 3,650 days since, I can honestly say that it's been in my thoughts at some point during every single one of those days. There's not been a day that I haven't thought about it.
"My feelings have changed from one of anger to now - 10 years down the line - worrying that some kids are going to speak to my son based on a conversation they've had with their dad, and I'll have to explain to my seven-year-old Freddie what happened.
"All I can say to him is that I made a stupid mistake, and I didn't have the courage of my convictions to stand up to someone. I live with it every day."
Williams recovered from his ban to finish his 13-year career with Quins as a one-club man, decorated by a European Challenge Cup winners' medal, the Premiership title and Anglo-Welsh success during a glorious three-season spell between 2011 and 2013.
Following his retirement in 2015, Williams joined the coaching staff at the club, becoming academy transition coach, but it was confirmed on Wednesday that he will depart at the end of the season.
Despite 60 tries and 208 appearances, the Brighton-born player's time on the rugby field will forever be remembered for his involvement during one ill-thought-out plan that would taint both himself and Harlequins.
LISTEN: Will Greenwood's podcast
James Gemmell and Will Greenwood speak to Tom Williams ahead of the 10th anniversary of 'Bloodgate'
"I can't believe a decade has past so quickly," he added on the Will Greenwood Rugby podcast. "I was initially quite excited that it was 10 years on, in a strange way, but then the familiar feeling of massive sickness in my stomach and anxiety came back. All those memories that I thought I'd buried came bubbling back up to the surface.
"There was the initial increase in activity and massive interest in the incident, but I was always told that nothing would come from it, but then things started snowballing. By August, it had hit its peak in terms of media interest and both inside and outside the game.
"I thought it was all brushed under the carpet, and I was told at all times that it wouldn't be a big deal. I was told that something might happen, but it would be a small fine, a small ban, and the club would cover it.
"It was a 'win at all costs' culture, and we were trying to do everything we could do to try to be as successful as possible.
"Clearly we crossed the boundaries, there's no doubt about that. But it was so far crossed by such a distance, that it was becoming acceptable to do this on a regular occurrence. It wasn't a one-off.
"After the blood capsule was handed to me, I put it into my sock, and then into my mouth, back into my sock and then back into my mouth. The debacle that unfolded was clear for everyone to see.
"All the time, I was offered things by Harlequins to keep quiet, I was told that me coming out to tell the truth would ruin the club and that people would lose their jobs. But I was being hung out to dry."
Williams revealed that he now has no relationship with Richards but that the pair remain civilised but distant, admitting he holds no ill-will towards him and shakes his hand whenever they meet.
The 35-year-old expressed his sympathy towards Cameron Bancroft and Mohammad Amir, two young cricketers who were at the centre of similar scandals in cricket.
He said: "Bancroft was a young player at the centre of the sandpaper incident with Australia, and Amir was aged just 18 when he became involved in a spot-fixing scandal.
"I feel sympathy for them because I've been in a similar situation. I feel sport has a lot to answer for when it becomes commercialised.
"With that comes certain pressures to win, and people have different levels of morality. Without the constant checks and reminders, some people get carried away.
"It should never get to point where cheating is deemed acceptable. In sport you have to push the boundaries - Dave Brailsford has spoken about incremental gains, and Sir Clive Woodward was the same.
"Tiny details that if you get right can have a butterfly effect, but there has to be a level of morality. The biggest code you can stick to is your own moral code and the moral code of those around you.
"When a culture gets broken, those codes can get slightly blurred. I wish I could speak to my younger self 10 years ago and say: 'It's just not worth it. You'll get found out, and if you don't, you won't ever have the satisfaction that you would do if you did it off your own back.'"