To me, there's something unseemly about big, tough professional ruggers furtively dabbing themselves with Halloween blood. Sheesh. - Wes
London Sunday Times article, September 23 2001
Unscrupulous teams are abusing the blood-bin laws to gain an unfair advantage over rivals. Stephen Jones and Nick Cain investigate
Players use fake blood to flout injury law
FAKE BLOOD is blatantly being used to circumvent rugby union's rules on blood-bin replacements. Players are smeared in a red dye - often bought in capsule form from joke shops or theatrical outlets, or even contained in crimson-stained bandages - to give the impression they have been cut.
The practice is endemic in the Zurich Premiership in England, and at international level.
The advantages of persuading match officials that your player is leaving the field for treatment to a cut are obvious. No player can return to the game after being replaced unless he has left for a cut to be treated. The fake-blood "victim" can be removed simply to rest or for tactical reasons before returning to the game if and when required.
Matches over the past two years have been increasingly blighted by suspicious incidents surrounding the replacement of players, including England internationals.
Dick Best, the former England coach who left London Irish last season, said that the practice of using fake blood capsules was widespread. "They are in common use in the Premiership, and I believe that they are the same as you'd find on the set of any film with stunt scenes," he said.
Another coaching director in the Zurich Premiership added: "We got a shed-load of them last season." The capsules are easily broken and the red dye can then be smeared into the
hair, face or other parts of the body.
"If it's put on someone's scalp, the referee is hardly likely to go scrabbling around in their hair to see whether it's a genuine cut or not," added Best.Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, confirmed Best's revelations and was critical of many fourth officials for failing to detect blood cheats.
"I have heard about the use of fake blood capsules and my view is that match officials are not very vigilant in checking blood injuries," said Melville. "The fourth official should check them, but at present the touchline procedure is slack."
Richard Cockerill, the former England hooker, revealed that during one match stitches in an existing cut on his finger were opened up by the England back-room staff "to take me off for 'blood' just in case it was necessary to bring me back on".
More eyebrows were raised over England's blood-bin procedures during the Six Nations match against France last season when lock Steve Borthwick was replaced by Martin Corry after he had struggled for the first 30 minutes on his debut, only to return in seemingly pristine condition for the last five minutes of the match. There is no suggestion that fake blood was used in this instance, however.
Terry Crystal, a respected doctor who has been attached to the England team for 10 years, said: "Most doctors would be far happier if there was a 10-minute window for the assessment of an injured or blood-binned player, during which time he could be replaced. Then, if he was judged unfit to continue by the end of that 10-minute period, the replacement would remain on the pitch and a lot of these problems, especially those surrounding the blood-bin, would be solved."
A spokesman for the Rugby Football Union said yesterday: "Primarily, this is a matter for the International Rugby Board. But, obviously, we will have to discuss the matter internally."
England are far from alone in experiencing the problem. In the first Test of last year's series between England and South Africa in Pretoria, the Springboks reduced the blood-bin to a farce when Robbie Fleck, Thinus Delport and Albert van den Berg were on and off the pitch twice each during the match. Fleck departed in the first half, sat on the touchline without having treatment and returned to the match in the second half.
Bob Dwyer, the coach of the NSW Waratahs, pointed to a southern-hemisphere variation on the theme: "I have heard of the idea of people taking bandages with crimson stains on to the field which are then taped to the heads of players before they are led off," he said.
The issue emphasises the growing pressure placed on team doctors to fit in with the demands of the coach, a pressure starkly revealed on the recent Lions tour video when James Robson, the highly respected tour doctor, clearly felt under pressure to pronounce players fit when he had serious doubts about them.