From blood capsules on the field to allegations of food poisoning off it, Two Cents Rugby looks at five of rugby union’s greatest scandals over the years.
All Blacks food poisoning – 1995 Rugby World Cup
The story of “Suzie” the waitress and the alleged poisoning prior to the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in South Africa is one that still comes up in New Zealand to this day.
There’s no doubt a large part of the All Blacks squad did contract food poisoning a few days before the final in Johannesburg. New Zealand coach at the time, Laurie Mains, maintains the incident was intentional, with a staff member named Suzie being the culprit. So too local security specialist Rory Steyn who was assigned to protect the All Blacks. He suggested betting syndicates were behind the bout of sickness.
The manager of the hotel at the time dismissed any accusations of foul play by his staff, saying they ate the same food as the players.
Jonah Lomu was one of the players who didn’t get sick, and still never managed to get across the whitewash, despite being prolific in the tournament. But Jeff Wilson on the other hand was visibly not 100% on match day.
Whatever it was, it remains one for the conspiracy theorists, and one of rugby’s greatest scandals.
Craig Joubert’s run – 2015 Rugby World Cup
The quarter-final between Australia and Scotland in 2015 should have gone down as one of the best games of the tournament. Eight tries all up and a nail-biting finish. However, it’s only now remembered for one thing, which is referee Craig Joubert’s incorrect decision to award Australia a late penalty, and even more bizarrely, his sprint from the field after the final whistle.
Joubert has since said by running off the field, he wanted to avoid any kind of post-match incident. However, instead it just seemed like an act of guilty conscience having cost Scotland the game.
In real time, the call Joubert made was a tough one. It was hard to see if a loose ball had come off a Scottish hand or an Australian one. Joubert after the fact also insisted going to the TMO to double check wasn’t an option, and if not for his run off the field, it certainly wouldn’t have the same notoriety it does now.
As it stands though, talk of refereeing calls with Scottish fans will always bring up the name Craig Joubert.
Saracens salary cap breaches – Premiership 2019/20
Salary caps always come with the risk of teams looking to squeeze more in that is officially allowed. Saracens chairman at the time, Nigel Wray, circumvented the cap by investing into companies of his playing staff, essentially giving them a kind of off the books income.
It came out that during the 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, Saracens, using this method, had been over the salary cap. During that time the club won two Premiership titles and two Champions Cups.
Given Exeter Chiefs lost two finals to Saracens in that time, one might assume the titles would be stripped and given to Exeter, but there was no mechanism for that to happen in the Premiership’s rules. The Champions Cup doesn’t have a salary cap, so for that competition there was no breach.
Despite keeping their trophies, Saracens were relegated from the Premiership and fined as a punishment. Chairman Wray stood down, and the nickname “Salarycens” is not likely to go away anytime soon.
Grannygate – Six Nations 2000
Qualification for an international side based on the birthplace of a grandparent is a common method used by players from many countries. It was this method that saw New Zealanders Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson qualify for Wales back in the late 1990s. Howarth managed 19 caps and in 1999 even scored a try in the 32-31 victory over England, which denied the English a Grand Slam and saw Scotland crowed Five Nations champions.
In fact, he should never have been on the field as it turned out neither of these players actually had Welsh grandparents and were ineligible to represent Wales. This duo were by no means the only two to incorrectly qualify, Scotland were also implicated at the time, and since then Italy, Romania, Spain and others have all fielded ineligible players at one time or another.
Despite tightening of regulations, Sinkinson ended up able to represent Wales again on residency grounds, but for Howarth, his days in red were done due to having already been capped by the All Blacks in 1994.
Bloodgate – Heineken Cup 2009
Back in 2009 I wasn’t a regular viewer of the Heineken Cup, but the Bloodgate scandal is so infamous, even I became aware of it.
In their semi-final with Leinster, Harlequins were down 6-5 with time running out. Their main goal-kicker Nick Evans had gone off earlier with a leg injury and couldn’t be brought back on. However, they found a way to bring him on, as a blood replacement. They sent on their physio with a blood capsule for Tom Williams, who shortly later chomped down on it to give the look of a cut in his mouth, and Evans was indeed sent on.
Even at the time commentators had their doubts and Williams winking as he went off didn’t help him to look innocent.
Evans missed a drop-goal and Harlequins ended up losing anyway, but the fallout was to come. With the fake blood incident being revealed in an investigation, Quins were fined, boss Dean Richards was given a three-year suspension, the physio two years and Williams a four-month ban.
Nothing quite tops that in terms of pure, on field scandal.