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Paul Dearlove's column: 'Bloodgate' - "Most players thought it was a good idea"

27 August 2009

Pau captain Paul Dearlove in action
'No players objected to the
idea': Pau's Paul Dearlove

In the latest of his exclusive columns for FRC, Pau captain Paul Dearlove tackles the 'Bloodgate' scandal currently dominating the British (and global) game - including his own experience with the club-sanctioned use of blood capsules - and he asks where is the line truly drawn between acceptable and unacceptable levels of 'cheating' ...

?If you?re not cheating ? you?re not trying!?

I have heard this from many coaches and players and I understand the mentality. Rugby is a game with many areas requiring interpretation and this opens the door to all types of games within the game.

But what is cheating? Slowing the ball down for two or three seconds is against the laws, but is it cheating? Holding or obstructing an opposition supporting runner for even the shortest moment can save a try - this is also unlawful but teams train strategies with dummy runners for exactly this purpose. I could go on but anyone who has played or watched a game of rugby could pinpoint innumerable examples of players ?cheating?.

And what about ?playing? the referee? There have been many captains and players that have tried to subtly influence refereeing decisions. George Gregan was a master at choosing the right moment to question the referee. His aim was not to change that decision but to plant a seed of doubt so, when the next 50/50 call came around, the referee felt he ?owed? one to Gregan?s team. Coaches do the same thing in the press before a Test match. Does trying to get into the referee's subconscious count as cheating?

The subconscious is one thing but I have been part of teams where the coach will pinpoint a player in the opposing side and suggest to the referee or the press that he bends the laws ? they may even supply video evidence of the player?s transgressions. The player is almost certainly less likely to receive the benefit of the doubt if the referee is aware of his ?cheating?. This is a tactic that blatantly tries to influence the referees (which is against the laws) but again, is it actually cheating? I can think of two recent examples where a strategy to influence the referee has become ?fact? ? 'the Australian scrum is poor when Al Baxter is playing' and 'South African forwards are thugs'.

So I guess the question becomes what exactly constitutes cheating in rugby?

I think there are many - particularly flankers - who would argue that you get away with whatever you can. Certainly the recent ?Bloodgate? saga has exposed cheating that some players will say is acceptable and others unacceptable. It is, like so much of rugby, a grey area.

"We even practiced how we would do it [use a blood capsule]"

I have no doubt in my mind that this isn?t the first time the fake blood trick has been tried. I remember, when the blood bin was first introduced, the team I was associated with brought up whether to use it. We even practiced how we would do it - although we never used it in a game. (I don?t know if this was because the coaches felt it wasn?t honourable or simply because the right moment never presented itself). What I remember vividly is that not one player raised doubt over whether we should do it ? in fact most thought it was a good idea. In our minds it was just like encouraging the players to slow the ball down at the breakdown or telling a front rower to fake an injury so that the other players can catch their breath and the physio or doctor can relay a message from the coaches.

So what is the answer here? Harlequins have been exposed as cheats and careers tarnished. They decided to try a tactic that was definitely in the grey area and some will say was outright cheating. Perhaps there is an invisible line that separates ?acceptable? cheating from the ?unacceptable? ? more likely though: ?It is not cheating - if you don?t get caught?.

Previous columns:

07.05.09: The Merry Pranksters of ProD2's Section Paloise
24.04.09: Only four British and Irish Lions would get in my World XV

10.04.09: Opinions and a***holes - Stop giving the ELVs a bum deal
26.03.09: Home truths, and the struggle to perform when playing away
13.03.09: A week in the life of a professional rugby player
06.03.09: Me and my 'lucky undies' - Why are sportsmen superstitious?
19.02.09: Drugs in rugby - Part II: The 'recreational' debate
12.02.09: Drugs in rugby - Part I: Performance enhancing
05.02.09: Are 'les etrangers' good for French rugby?
28.01.09: Do the French deserve their reputation for foul play? - Part II
Do the French deserve their reputation for foul play? - Part I
08.01.09: Is professional rugby going to be credit crunched?
18.12.08: When two tribes go to war - The local derby
The game they play in heaven, but who is playing God?
The Unknown Soldier - Life as a journeyman professional in France's ProD2

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