Ranking the 25 Biggest Controversies in Rugby History

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Ranking the 25 Biggest Controversies in Rugby History

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    Rugby Union has had its fair share of controversial moments down the years.

    From on-field misdemeanours to scandals involving disputes and even death, several incidents have divided opinion and filled thousands of column inches.

    Here we look at the 25 biggest controversies to have rocked the sport.

25. O’Driscoll’s Omission from the Last Test in 2013

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    Lions coach Warren Gatland had to make a number of close selection calls for the final Test of the 2013 Lions series.

    But no one expected one of them to be the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll from the entire matchday squad. The Irish legend was on his fourth Lions tour and had never won a series.

    As the decisive third Test approached and his fellow centre Jamie Roberts returned to fitness, it was widely expected that Roberts’ Welsh compatriot Jonathan Davies would be the man to step aside in order for the midfield pairing from the 2009 tour to be reunited.

    Instead, O’Driscoll was dumped, not just from the team but from the squad, and watched on in his No. 1s as the Lions romped to a 2-1 series win without him. It was vindication for Gatland, but prior to the game his decision had provoked a huge backlash from O’Driscoll’s fan club.

    Notably, former Lion and Irish captain Keith Wood was furious, per the Daily Telegraph’s roundup of reactions to the news:

    Former Lions and Ireland forward Keith Wood said that, in the absence of Paul O’Connell, the Lions should have retained O’Driscoll for his experience alone. Wood accused Gatland of devaluing the Lions captaincy by failing to appreciate its significance.

    Wood said: 'I’ve been uncomfortable throughout this tour whenever Warren Gatland has spoken about the captaincy. He tries to depower it, he consistently says it isn’t about leadership and that isn’t the most important thing. Having been on two Lions tours myself under [former England captain] Martin Johnson, I would have said the leadership of the captain was the most important thing.

    'Brian O’Driscoll has been quiet in the two Tests but at every stage he has been the clarion call once Paul O’Connell got injured. Gatland has made a terrible mistake.'

    And the Telegraph even highlighted the reaction of one of the world’s best players:

    All Black Dan Carter, one of the few players held in higher esteem than O’Driscoll, said the Irishman should not only have been picked, he should have led the team. Carter wrote on Twitter: 'There must be some angry Irish out there waking up to see Brian O’Driscoll not playing this weekend. Should be the captain.'

24. The 16th Man

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    England’s 2003 World Cup ended in glory, but it could have been derailed as early as the group stages when they inadvertently fielded an extra player against Samoa.

    Replacement Dan Luger ran onto the field while Mike Tindall was being treated for an injury, but the proper process had not been followed. For a brief moment during which the winger made a tackle, England had 16 men on the field.

    The referee ushered the former Saracens man off again, but the mistake resulted in England being charged with misconduct. They were also hit with a second misconduct charge centering on fitness coach Dave Reddin, who had a bust-up with fourth official Steve Walsh during the game.

    Mick Cleary wrote in the Telegraph:

    Walsh and Reddin had a strong exchange with each other at the final whistle, both men letting rip with a few choice words. The crux of the matter is not so much that England had 16 players on the field but that they wilfully ignored the instructions of another touchline official, Brett Bowden, not to send on Luger until he was sure that Tindall had left the field. Reddin, though, ordered Luger to get on the pitch. The wing made a tackle and gave away a penalty before he was told to leave the field by the match referee, Jonathan Kaplan. He was on the field no more than 30 seconds.

    And it didn’t take long for host nation Australia to demand the book be thrown at England. Cleary reported that Wallabies player Toutai Kefu had said:

    The World Cup officials need to show courage and strip the Poms of their points. The bottom line is that rules are rules. England defied a tournament official. That is the key issue here. They should be deducted the points they got from the game and the points handed to Samoa.

    In the end, with the help of Richard Smith QC, England escaped with a fine of £10,000 and a two-match suspension for Reddin.

23. Tongans Dye for the Cause

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    Tonga are not a rugby nation with deep financial reserves, and this can make funding their attendances at World Cups difficult.

    In 2007 bookmaker Paddy Power decided to help and indulge in a spot of ambush marketing while it was at it.

    Paddy Power first encouraged centre Epi Taione to change his name by deed poll to Paddy Power, a move that did not go down well with tournament organisers, who refused to print his new moniker in any match programmes or tournament guides.

    So Paddy Power came up with a new idea—to dye the entire squad’s hair green before their pool match with England, as the Guardian's Mike Averis reported:

    In their team hotel at Clapier in the hills above Montpellier last night an Irish hairdresser, Dermot Hickie, was dyeing the entire matchday 22 bright green before their TGV journey north to Paris today. Each player has gone for his own style and there will be varying shades of green.

    When word got out, the IRB was quick to insist the green be gone, which was easier said than done. The result was a bizarre pregame training session undertaken by the Tongan players sporting all manner of head gear to cover up the offending hair styles.

    And the move won few friends for the bookmaker. The Guardian's Barry Glendenning was among the fiercest critics:

    The more cynical among us might argue that it's a classic case of dead-eyed opportunism at the expense of a poverty-stricken rugby team willing to do anything, no matter how demeaning, to please the sponsors that handed them a five-figure sum when it became apparent that penury would preclude them from participating in the Rugby World Cup.

22. Meads Blames the Milk

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    A Jonah Lomu-inspired New Zealand had run riot en route to the 1995 World Cup final.

    They had posted 40 points in a semi-final against England that was made famous by Lomu's stunning four-try haul.

    And they started as favourites in the final against South Africa, who had captured the nation on their journey back to the pinnacle of the game after years in the apartheid wilderness.

    The Boks triumphed in a tight, fraught match with Joel Stransky's extra-time drop goal, but why had New Zealand looked so limited compared to their previous performances?

    Even the unstoppable Lomu was a shadow of his former self.

    The answer, grumbled their management, was dodgy milk, which sent a wave of tummy trouble rolling through the squad, as then team manager Colin Meads explained:

    "I put it down to the milk, that was my call," Meads told Yahoo:

    I had a big night the night before. The South African Rugby Union was shouting all the managers.

    And being Colin Meads, I thought I had to hold up my end and out-do all the other managers. Those were the ones that were out of the tournament but left there (in South Africa) still.

    And we had a big night out on the Wednesday night.

    I was feeling not too fit the next day. And often when you are feeling like that you have a couple of glasses of milk that puts you right.

    So at lunchtime I had a couple of these big glasses of milk. And I reckon that is what did us, it was in the milk.

    That is my theory. But no-one else believes me.

21. Luyt Loses Friends and Alienates People

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    South Africa’s 1995 World Cup win came with their first involvement in the tournament after missing the 1987 and 1991 editions while in sporting exile due to the governing apartheid regime at home.

    When they claimed the Webb Ellis Cup at the first attempt, it appeared to have provided a huge unifying opportunity for a country attempting to form itself anew.

    But the shadow of the old arrogance associated with the Afrikaaner ruling class reared its ugly head in the post–final dinner, thanks to comments made by South African Rugby Union President Louis Luyt, as Mick Cleary and Lawrence Donegan reported in The Guardian:

    The rugby world was most definitely not in union yesterday after remarks by South Africa's rugby president, Louis Luyt, reduced a banquet to mark the end of the World Cup tournament to acrimonious farce.

    In a speech which resonated with the old Afrikaans arrogance, Mr Luyt proclaimed the victorious Springboks as the first 'true' world champions.

    'There were no true world champions in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups because South Africa were not there. We have proved our point,' he said.

    This prompted New Zealand's defeated captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, to lead his side out of the dinner - but not before some players had approached the top table to take issue with Mr Luyt.

    The All Blacks were quickly followed by the French and English. 'It's disgusting. I can not believe what he has said,' Mr Fitzpatrick said afterwards.

20. Dwarf-Tossing, Mystery Blondes and Ferry Frolics

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    England’s 2011 World Cup was not one for the history books. Martin Johnson’s stodgy side laboured through their group and limped out at the quarter-final stage with a defeat to France.

    Their antics off the field were more headline-grabbing, however.

    After their first game, the players were allowed a night out in the party ski resort of Queenstown and ended up in a bar where a dwarf-tossing contest was underway.

    Captain Mike Tindall, and husband of the woman 15th in line to the British throne, was then caught on CCTV having a "moment" with a mystery blonde, according to the Sun.

    To cap it all, after their exit from the competition, centre Manu Tuilagi got himself into trouble by leaping from a moving Auckland ferry in nothing but his pants.

    A £3,000 fine followed, and England left the 2011 World Cup reduced to little more than a shambles.

19. Kamp Staaldraad

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    South Africa’s 2003 World Cup preparations were revealed to have involved some shocking treatment of players at a military facility known as Kamp Staaldraad.

    The camp was designed to toughen the players up ahead of their campaign, but, per Craig Ray in The Guardian, things went way too far.

    The Sunday Times in Johannesburg reported last weekend that naked players were crammed into foxholes and doused repeatedly with ice-cold water while the English national anthem and New Zealand's haka were played over and over again. The newspaper alleged that they were also forced into a freezing lake in the early hours of the morning to pump up rugby balls under water and that when some players tried to get out they were ordered back into the water at gunpoint.

    The players were also reported to have been held to an oath of silence about what happened at the camp:

    They were sworn to an oath of silence and were "threatened" if the code was broken. "I can tell you one or two incidents that I think are shocking, but when Straeuli is fired I will tell you all about it," a player who wished to remain anonymous told The Guardian. "Any guy who speaks will find himself with a problem and he will have to go and play in France or something."

    Coach Rudolph Straeuli eventually paid with his job following the reports and after the Boks exited the World Cup at the last-eight stage, with defeats to England and New Zealand.

18. The Hand of Back

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    The 2002 Heineken Cup final gave Leicester their second consecutive European crown as they defeated Munster at the Millennium Stadium.

    The East Midlands men were ahead as the clock ticked down but were defending their own line as Munster set a deep in Tigers territory.

    As Peter Stringer fed the ball into the scrum, Leicester and England No. 7 Neil Back stuck out a hand and batted it out of the Irishman’s grasp and into the Leicester side of the set piece. The referee was focused on the other side of the contest and had not seen Back’s piece of gamesmanship.

    The ball was kept by Leicester and belted out of play upfield. Minutes later, they had possession and kicked it out for the full-time whistle, controversially and illegally denying Munster one last shot to claim a first Heineken Cup.

17. Harrison Makes Class a Mistake

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    Australian second row Justin Harrison received an eight-month ban after admitting to taking cocaine at Bath’s end-of-season party in 2009.

    Harrison was up on a number of charges, per Paul Rees in the The Guardian: "yelling 'Class A, it's OK, everyone's doing it,' over a microphone on the coach taking the players to the London party. Academy youngsters were among those on board and some later complained to club officials.”

    The lock had also refused to submit to an internal drugs test ordered by the club. He later made a public apology, per the Mirror:

    'At an end-of-season party, I became involved in something that I shouldn't have.

    I've absolutely admitted that I've done the wrong thing and I'm moving forward as best I can. I'm not running from doorway to doorway hiding.'

    Harrison, 35, quit Bath in May after refusing to take an in-house drugs test before pleading guilty to the RFU of three drugs charges.

    He is banned from coaching or playing until January 13 next year but is hopeful of staying in the sport.

    He said: 'It would be wrong of me to sever all ties and I hope that rugby doesn't want to sever ties with me.'

16. Wendell Sailor Sacked

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    Sailor was a high-profile code-switcher when he left rugby league for the Australian Rugby Union in 2002.

    A year later he was playing for the Wallabies in a World Cup final. But in 2006 it all came crashing down when he tested positive for cocaine and had his contract ripped up.

    "His behaviour's very disappointing and we had no hesitation in terminating his contract," said Australian Rugby Union (ARU) president Gary Flowers, per BBC Sport.

    A two-year ban followed, but so did a long journey down the road to redemption that saw the dual-code star confront many of his demons, clean his life up and learn how to control what he called his "self destruct switch," as he explained in his autobiography, which was referenced in The Sydney Morning Herald:

    My switch goes two ways - and I don't have 'off'. Switch off the player and the energy goes from my body to my head and you get the performer. In its least-harmful mode, it makes me an entertainer; the life and soul of the party ... any party. But push it too far and I'm in self-destruct mode. Too often over the years, binge drinking, womanising, party drugs and bar fights have been the result.

15. Matt Stevens Banned for Drug Use

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    England prop Stevens was handed a two-year ban in early 2009 for testing positive for cocaine after a test taken the previous December.

    BBC Sport reported:

    Stevens will be allowed to resume his career on 19 January, 2011.

    Stevens's agent said the player "intends to return to the game a better person and rugby player".

    The agent added that Stevens would like to apologise once more "to everyone that has been involved in his career at Bath and England, his team-mates and rugby fans for letting them down".

    The prop tested positive following Bath's Heineken Cup game against Glasgow in December.

14. Kevin Yates’ Biting Ban

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    In 1998 Bath prop Kevin Yates was banned for six months for biting the ear of London Scottish flanker Simon Fenn during a cup match.

    Yates long protested his innocence after being found guilty of the offence, but his six–month ban was also seen as controversial by many in light of the 18 months imposed in 1994 on South African Johan le Roux when he was found guilty of biting All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick.

    David Llewellyn of The Independent wrote:

    Yates, 25, was found guilty of biting the ear of London Scottish's Simon Fenn in a Tetley's Bitter Cup tie last month. The incident took place following a scrum and resulted in Fenn needing 25 stitches in his ear.

    The verdict was reached in the early hours of yesterday morning by a three-man Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel chaired by Michael Burton QC. It followed after some 25 hours of deliberation spread over four days. Yates maintains his innocence and has already lodged an appeal, but unless it succeeds he will be suspended until 10 July 1998 - the panel deeming that having already been banned since the offence took place on 10 January this should count towards his sentence. Yates has also been ordered to pay pounds 23,000 costs.

    As the verdict filtered out to the rugby world yesterday, there was a growing feeling that the punishment was a compromise. London Scottish had originally said they wanted a minimum 12-month ban, while others had said that two years would be too short.

    Jeff Probyn, the former England prop and current RFU council member, said: "Kevin has denied it all along, but if he did it, the sentence isn't long enough. The weight of written evidence - because there was no television evidence - seems to be against him and he was found guilty. On that basis a six-month sentence seems a little bit light." Another former international prop, Scotland's David Sole, said: "If he has been told he is guilty, he shouldn't be playing the game of rugby."

13. Le Roux Lunches on Fitzy

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    There are few men walking the earth who would be either brave or daft enough to bite Sean Fitzpatrick. Springbok prop Johan le Roux is obviously one of them.

    He had a nibble on the All Black hooker’s ear in a Test match in 1994. Le Roux was banned for 18 months as a result, as the New Zealand Herald recalled:

    In the sanctity of the scrum, no one would ever find out. Except le Roux did a rather splendid job and took a chunk off said ear. There was blood and needless to say a volatile All Black skipper when the scrum came up.

    It ended with le Roux being banned for 18 months. After which he said: "For an 18-month suspension, I feel I probably should have torn it off. Then at least I could say, 'look, I've returned to South Africa with the guy's ear'.

12. Warburton Sees Red

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    Wales’ 2011 World Cup semi-final clash with France had the makings of a classic, but Wales were robbed of their captain in the first 20 minutes of the game when Sam Warburton was shown a shock red card for what referee Alain Rollan deemed an illegal tackle on French wing Vincent Clerc.

    Warburton certainly hit his man like a steam train, lifting Clerc off the floor. The speed of the hit meant the flanker had little time to stop Clerc hitting the floor neck first, thus causing Rolland to adjudge that Warburton had not taken care to put the player down.

    It was a much-debated decision and one that had an impact on the game. Wales battled gamely and should have won with 14 men but ended up 9-8 losers.

    Mark Reason wrote in The Telegraph:

    Anyone who plays the game will know that it was outrageously unjust. I was looking at the tackle through my binoculars and the first reaction was hard but fair. Warburton hit Clerc hard and drove him. Gravity took over and the France wing hit the ground.

    The trouble is that under the laws I am not sure that referee Alain Rolland had any option but to dismiss Warburton. The relevant law was amended last year to read: "lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play."

    The refs have also been told that they cannot make judgements about intent. It is too subjective in an area such as player welfare. Prompted by the appalling spear tackle on Brian O'Driscoll during the 2005 Lions tour, the IRB decided to act. Quite rightly the IRB decided they had to err on the side of caution.

    But 1995 World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar was not so circumspect, as reported by the Mirror:

    Covering the game for ITV, South Africa's former world-cup winning captain Francois Pienaar said: "It was a dangerous tackle, yes. A penalty, yes. Never a red card.

    "Sam Warburton has been one of the cleanest players at the World Cup. He (Rolland) has killed the game. I'm livid.

    "It is dangerous, but this is a World Cup semi-final with all the world watching. You have all the technology at your disposal, why not go to the video referee or ask your touch judge?"

11. England Players Named in Police Probe

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    England’s 2008 tour of New Zealand was plunged into turmoil when a woman made allegations of sexual misconduct against four players.

    One remained unnamed, but Mike Brown, Danny Care and Topsy Ojo were all identified in a report that followed an investigation by the RFU, as The Telegraph reported:

    The 18-year-old had claimed she had been "sexually violated" in a hotel by four England players, one unnamed. Topsy Ojo, Mike Brown and Danny Care denied any wrongdoing.

    The report, by the RFU's disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett, also reports for the first time that the alleged victim made an allegation of sexual misconduct both to police and doctors at a hospital where she sought treatment.

    It states: "In the course of receiving some treatment it appears that she made a disclosure to medical staff that she was sexually violated by four playing members of the England squad and she confirmed that when the police attended.

    Because no formal complaint has been made, the four players - who vehemently deny the allegations - were not arrested and were allowed to fly home at the end of the tour.

10. Referee Attacked by Fan

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    A 2002 Test between South Africa and New Zealand descended into bedlam when Irish referee David McHugh was attacked by a South African supporter who had run on from the stands.

    McHugh was assaulted by irate Pieter van Zyl, who was then hauled to the floor by All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw. McHugh was in no fit state to continue and was replaced by English referee Chris White.

    The game had been locked at 17-17 when the incident occurred, after McHugh had awarded a controversial early penalty try.

9. Carling Sacked

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    When he became England captain in the early 1990s at the tender age of 22, Will Carling piloted English rugby through one of its most successful eras.

    A World Cup final and back-to-back Grand Slams followed. But not long after England’s exit from the 1995 World Cup, the dashing Carling was brought crashing down to earth, as The Independent’s Chris Hewett recalls:

    Just before the 1995 World Cup, he spoke off-camera to a sports documentary crew and referred to the members of the Rugby Football Union as "57 old farts" - a comment that was broadcast, much to Carling's unworldly astonishment. Old Fartdom reacted sniffily and sacked him.

    Carling was back in the job 48 hours later thanks to a display of player power that wouldn’t stand for his removal, but it was the beginning of the end for England’s silver-tongued figurehead. Carling had also been linked to the late Princess Diana, who was cited by Carling’s wife Julia when the pair separated in 1995, per The Independent's story on the couple’s split:

    The announcement comes in the wake of a tabloid frenzy over allegations that Mr Carling had enjoyed secret meetings with the Princess of Wales.

    After the initial revelations of a "close friendship", Carling announced publicly that he had been "naive" about the possibility that the friendship could be misconstrued and said he would not be seeing the princess again.

    His wife, presenter of the television programme Capital Woman, told the press that the princess had "picked the wrong couple" and warned she would have a fight on her hands.

8. Speargate Ends O'Driscoll's Tour

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    The first Test of the 2005 Lions tour was marred by an injury to Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll in the opening minutes of the game that ended his tour.

    The Irishman appeared to be upended at a ruck by New Zealand captain Tana Umaga and hooker Keven Mealamu.

    O’Driscoll howled in pain as he hit the turf, suffering a horrendous shoulder injury that ruled him out. Neither referee nor touch judge took any action against the All Blacks players, and after the citing commissioner viewed the video evidence, he decided there had been nothing untoward about the incident, per RTE:

    All Black pair Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu have been cleared of any wrongdoing after they were cited by Lions officials for a double-spear tackle that left Brian O'Driscoll with a dislocated shoulder and out of the tour...

    Lions coach Clive Woodward was furious about the incident that ruled his captain out of the second and third test against New Zealand.

    "I have watched the tapes from all the angles, and also spoken at length with Brian who is back at the hotel with his shoulder in a sling," he said.

    "He is in no doubt he was spear-tackled by two New Zealand players, the hooker and Tana Umaga."

    "In my opinion, it is a pretty horrendous tackle that has put Brian out for a long time. It took half an hour to put his shoulder back in, and after watching it he was pretty lucky, if we are honest.

    O'Driscoll was outraged at what he perceived as a lack of concern from All Blacks captain Umaga after the injury, as the New Zealand Herald reported:

    My real disappointment was that he (Umaga) didn't come up as I was being stretchered off which I thought would just be a common courtesy between captains, whether he had been involved or not.

    I don't know whether that shows any element of guilt or not. At the time and post-match when I thought about it, that certainly disappointed me.

    The row rumbled on, but on the field the Lions could do nothing to avenge the loss of their captain, going on to lose the series 3–0.

7. Dawson’s Column Detonates Lions Tour

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    The 2001 Lions Test series began with a stirring victory for the tourists in Brisbane.

    But the mood in the camp was far from cordial following the publication of scrum half Matt Dawson’s column criticizing the tour management.

    The Telegraph broke the story, with Sam Lyon writing:

    Matt Dawson has launched an astonishing attack on the tourists' harsh regime and poor preparations. The England scrum-half claims that Graham Henry has failed to inspire trust and that he treats the players like children.

    'It's official - some of the boys have decided to leave the tour. We said at Tylney that if this should happen we would implement peer pressure, but to be frank with so many young players it is hard to avoid,' claims Dawson.

    Dawson’s quotes went on:

    Every day consists of mindless training. The coaching staff are taking it too far. Boys are not enjoying themselves. No energy for bonding. What's the point of all that work and expense at Tylney Hall if the boys never have time or energy to get to know each other when it counts.

    Seems like the coaches have forgotten what a long season the boys have had. Yes we're up for a Lions tour but there's only so much that is good for you.

    There are lots of unhappy people here.

    Dawson recalled in his autobiography Nine Lives, serialised in The Telegraph:

    My diary was published on the Saturday morning of the first Test under the headline 'Harsh regime tears us apart'. The timing was inexcusable but what appeared in print wasn't just how I was feeling.

    It was how the majority of the squad were feeling. We were being treated like kids. In the diary I wrote about how shattered I was, three days before we even left the UK. It went on to describe wall to wall training sessions, with no time for anything in else for sleep.

    I had been consumed by frustration to the point that I hadn't been able to see the dangers of going public with some fairly heavy thoughts.

    Dawson was forced to apologise to the squad but remained on the tour, which the Lions went on to lose 2-1:

    I apologised (to the squad) for the timing and the breach of trust and confidence. I'm not making excuses or reneging on what I wrote, but I fully understand that it has harmed their reputations and took the gloss off the squad's victory (in the first Test).

6. Ruddockgate

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    Wales ended years of hurt when Mike Ruddock led them to the 2005 Grand Slam to usher in a new era for Welsh rugby.

    But less than a year later the architect of that triumph was gone. Questions swirled over Ruddock’s departure. He had cited family reasons in an official statement, but many weren’t swallowing it.

    "Something has happened behind the scenes," then England coach Clive Woodward told BBC Wales. "But Mike is such a proud man there's no way he's going to stand up and say this and that, because he won't want to let the team down. I personally think that one or two members of his team have actually let him down."

    The focus of what became known as "Ruddockgate" centred on then Welsh captain Gareth Thomas, who was accused of leading a player revolt against the coach, something he strenuously denied in his autobiography Alfie, which was serialized at Wales Online:

    I wanted him to say to us, ‘We have reached this level. Come with me to an even higher place.’

    And the change in direction, the new ideas, the move to the next echelon, had to be presided over by him.

    As head coach, it had to be his master plan. For me, the time had come for Mike to truly take up the reins and lead us to even greater conquests and eventually to a position from which we could go to the 2007 World Cup as contenders to win it.

    Instead, Ruddock left midway through the 2006 Six Nations, and the media’s gaze fell on Thomas as the cause of his departure.

    Things culminated in an episode of the BBC programme Scrum V during which former Welsh international and commentator Eddie Butler raised the issue of player power with Thomas and his role in Ruddock’s exit, after it emerged Thomas had led a group of senior players in a meeting with Welsh Rugby Union boss Steve Lewis to air concerns about Ruddock’s style of management.

    Their heated argument took another twist when, watching the episode back at home, Thomas suffered what was later diagnosed as a severe migraine and paralysis of his left side.

    Paul Rees of The Guardian wrote:

    Thomas was at home with his wife, Jemma, his parents and other members of his family when the broadcast went out and, in the middle of watching his interview, he complained of numbness in his left side and blurred vision. "I had never experienced anything like it," he said yesterday. "I thought I was going to die and I was looking around the room as I slid off my chair fearing that I was seeing my family for the last time."

    But Rees also hinted Thomas' appearance on the show had done little to quell the speculation that player power had been at the heart of the Ruddock issue:

    If Thomas intended to prove that the players were not the catalysts behind Ruddock's departure, the circumstances of which will be investigated tonight by the WRU's 17-strong board of directors, he succeeded only in fuelling speculation. He admitted the squad thought that Ruddock did not take enough responsibility, that the coach's name had come up during discussions with Lewis, only for the chief executive to refuse to discuss their concerns, and that the players had threatened not to take the field against Scotland earlier this month in a dispute with Lewis over insurance.

5. French Star Murders Wife

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    PATRICK GARDIN/Associated Press

    Marc Cecillon was a bruising back row forward who played for France in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups.

    But his life took a bizarre and tragic twist when he was convicted of murdering his wife. The Independent called the story “the oft-repeated parable of the hero-worshipped sportsman who fails to deal with the passing of adulation and absence of dressing-room camaraderie. Unfortunately it is a tale that concluded in the most tragic and extreme circumstances.”

    The tragedy unfolded thus, per BBC News:

    Cecillon shot his wife five times at point-blank range during a garden party in the town of Saint-Savin on 7 August 2004.

    He was reported to have arrived at the party drunk and slapped the hostess for no apparent reason before being asked to leave.

    Mrs Cecillon refused to leave with him, the court heard. He went home and returned shortly afterwards, when he pulled out a Magnum handgun and shot her in the presence of about 60 witnesses.

4. Dallaglio Caught in Drugs Sting

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    In 1999 Lawrence Dallaglio was forced to resign the England captaincy amid claims he had used and dealt hard drugs.

    The story was broken by the now defunct News of the World, which secured the scoop through one of its infamous undercover operations.

    Dallaglio denied the claims made by the paper, which stood by the story. BBC News reported, "In a statement he added that 'the circumstances in which the supposed admissions were obtained amounted to an elaborate set-up.'

    But News of the World editor Phil Hall said, "We stand by our story. Lawrence Dallaglio is damned in his own words and frankly, we are amazed at his denial."

3. Trevor Brennan Batters Fan

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Irish hard man Trevor Brennan gave rugby one of its darkest days when he entered a packed stand and rained punches down on a visiting spectator.

    Brennan was on the bench for Toulouse’s Heineken Cup match with Ulster when he reacted to alleged chants about the pub he owned in the French city. The second rower waded into the stand and assaulted Ulster fan Patrick Bamford, as the Daily Mail’s Chris Foy reported:

    Many of the estimated 1,000 travelling supporters had been drinking in a pub, De Danu, which is part-owned by Brennan and some allegedly chanted 'Your pub's a load of b******s'.

    At first Brennan appeared to play along with the banter, but then he lost his temper, climbed over a barrier and charged into the stand.

    One visiting fan, James Rea, from Belfast, said: 'Something just seemed to snap. When he climbed over the wall and walked towards us, people thought he was still playing along.

    'But then he just started landing haymakers on this poor guy, who was sat about five rows back. He hit him with six or seven solid punches. The man's face was covered in blood.'

    Brennan’s club defended their player, per Paul Rees’ piece in The Guardian following the incident:

    Toulouse contend that a section of Ulster fans was chanting: 'Brennan, your mother is a whore,' a version backed yesterday by the player's uncle, George Brennan.

    'Trevor Brennan is a generous man who has always respected opponents and their supporters,' said Toulouse in a statement. 'It required sustained and repeated provocation to make him react in an unacceptable but understandably human way. [Rugby is a] sport which has always placed an emphasis on the values of friendship and cameraderie. We want ERC to investigate the behaviour of some of the Ulster supporters'

    Brennan was banned for life from the game, which was reduced to five years on appeal.

2. Bloodgate

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    No Harlequins fan will forget April 12, 2009. It was the day their club was plunged into the biggest scandal the sport in the U.K. and possibly the world had ever seen.

    It led to bans, resignations, suspensions, fines and a huge amount of publicity for a Clapham fancy dress shop.

    Late in Leinster’s 6-5 Heineken Cup quarter-final win at the Stoop, Quins wing Tom Williams was replaced with blood apparently pouring from his mouth. Fly half Nick Evans, who had earlier been taken off injured, was the man to replace Williams.

    A string of injuries had meant Quins lacked a goal-kicker as they sought to snatch victory, so returning Evans to the fray was a move that ensured they had a man on the field capable of kicking the points that would snatch the win. Evan’s late drop-goal attempt failed, but the story was far from over.

    The substitution was later investigated, and it was revealed that Williams had been told by Quins boss Dean Richards that he would be coming off for a blood injury.

    TV footage showed Williams being handed a fake blood capsule by club physio Steph Brennan, which had been bought from a Clapham joke shop. The wing later bit down on the capsule to fake the injury that would allow Evans to legally rejoin the match as a blood replacement.

    When the truth was revealed, Williams got a 12-month ban, and Richards resigned from the club and was banned for three years after it emerged he had been involved in four similar incidents.

    Brennan got a two-year ban and was struck off, a decision that was later overturned on appeal.

    Club doctor Wendy Chapman also landed in hot water for deliberately cutting Williams’ mouth after the game to add weight to the story that he had been genuinely cut. Chapman had originally been cleared of any wrongdoing by the European Rugby Cup investigation but admitted her role in the scandal to a later hearing held by the General Medical Council, as reported by BBC News:

    He (Williams) asked Dr Wendy Chapman to cut him and she agreed, the panel was told…Her counsel told the hearing that she had made the incision using a stitch-cutter because the player wanted to demonstrate a "real injury". She has also admitted failing to tell a European Rugby Cup (ERC) disciplinary hearing that she had caused the lip injury. She was cleared of any wrongdoing by the ERC.

    Chapman was given a warning by the GMC, as reported by BBC.co.uk:

    The GMC ruled that Dr Chapman's fitness to practise was not impaired, despite her actions. But it said her actions were not in the best interests of her patient. She was suspended by the GMC last September and could have been struck off at the hearing in Manchester.

1. The Dawn of Professionalism

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    Sir John Hall was one of the first to plough money into professional rugby.
    Sir John Hall was one of the first to plough money into professional rugby.David Rogers/Getty Images

    The most seismic, controversial shift in the game’s history came in 1995 when the sport was declared "open" and became professional.

    The transition in the Southern Hemisphere went relatively smoothly, with the Unions retaining the lion’s share of control, while in the North, all hell broke loose.

    Money men like Sir John Hall, Nigel Wray and Ashley Levett waded into the game at Newcastle, Saracens and Richmond, respectively. The latter lasted just four years before deciding there was no money to be made and nearly killed the club for good. Tim Glover in The Independent wrote:

    A few days ago he (Levett) abruptly withdrew his support, forcing Richmond into a series of crisis meetings and eventually into administration…which is another way of describing a lifeline for those thrown in at the deep end. If the application is granted it will give Richmond some time to mount a rescue operation. Levett, who held 80 per cent of the non-redeemable shares, had cut the purse strings with immediate effect.

    But if the club game was thrown into turmoil, the international scene was no less bloody. England struck a deal with Sky TV for broadcasting rights of their home games and were promptly thrown out of the Five Nations before being reinstated. Derek Douglas wrote on the Herald Scotland:

    The five-year agreement with the satellite station has seen England ejected from the Five Nations tournament for breaking the understanding that - France notwithstanding - the home nations were not permitted to sell Five Nations rights on their own accord.

    They were then ejected again in 1997 only to be let back in once more. The relationship between the clubs and the RFU in England became fractured and bitter.

    In 1997 nouveau riche Newcastle won the English title, but Chris Rea of The Independent saw it as less of a triumph for a newly professional club as a disaster for the Test game:

    No club has contributed more to the hopeless plight in which the Rugby Football Union now finds itself than Newcastle under Sir John Hall. If it were just England suffering it would be bad enough, but there are other casualties of this civil war. The Scottish, Irish and Welsh squads have all been grievously weakened by the unavailability of players contracted to English clubs. The argument that the mass withdrawals from the summer tours are the result of unavoidable injury is manifestly not the case. Many of them have been turning out for their clubs for weeks. The truth is, quite simply, that the players are unavailable because of the demands, either physical or contractual, placed upon them by their clubs and, as a result, international rugby is being grossly devalued.

    The accord between clubs and the RFU still limps along uncomfortably, with deals thrashed out over player release and compensation over the years, but evidence of how poorly the change was handled still remains.

    This summer saw more than 10 England players unable to feature in England’s first Test in New Zealand due to the date of the English domestic final.


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