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24 Jul 2009 11:57
On Monday Harlequins wing Tom Williams was banned from rugby for a year for the footling offence of feigning injury.
It’s all in the detail: with his team trailing 6-5 to Leinster in April Williams was led bleeding from the field, allowing for a tactically handy “blood replacement”.
And here’s the thing.
Quins deny it, but then they would, because the alternative—that somebody at the club went to a joke shop, bought some capsules and concealed them in a roll of cauliflower-ear tape—is simply too odd to countenance.
But it would be nothing new.
Innovative Wacky Races-style cheating has a richly textured history in sport. The blood capsule sits comfortably alongside tales from the early days of the Tour de France, where it was quite common to “spike” an opponent’s shorts with itching powder. There’s a recent precedent in football: in December 2000 Esperance goalkeeper Chokri El Ouaer slashed his own cheek with a knife during a pitch invasion in the final of the African Champions League, in an attempt to have the match abandoned.
Happily, a linesman spotted El Ouaer in the act of self-harming. He was sent off.
Poisonings are also common: last year Brazilian football team Palmeiras were fined after opponents Sao Paolo found the lockers in their dressing room had been laced with pepper spray at half-time. And boxing legend still has it that Sonny Liston’s trainer smeared his gloves with antiseptic ointment during his title bout with Muhammad Ali in 1964, blinding Ali for an entire round (though he still won the fight).
If the ban on Williams seems harsh in this kind of company, it perhaps has something to do with that infernal capsule.
As of Tuesday afternoon this was still an incident that few people in professional rugby seemed to want to talk about. But then, this is a sport that prides itself above all on the visceral purity of its physical contact—something skewered by even a single mouthful of vampire costume blood.—
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