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Hopley slams 'extraordinary' ban
Scrum.com
July 21, 2009
Damian Hopley, Chief Executive of the Professional Rugby Players Association at his office, Twickenham, England, February 15, 2007
PRA boss Damian Hopley has expressed his anger at the ban handed down for Harlequins' Tom Williams © Getty Images
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Players' union chief Damian Hopley has slammed the 12-month ban handed to Tom Williams for faking a blood injury and declared the punishment "extraordinary" and "entirely disproportionate".

The Harlequins player was handed the lengthy ban yesterday for his role in the controversial incident that occurred during his side's Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster last season. An independent disciplinary hearing found Williams guilty of fabricating a cut to the mouth to allow specialist kicker Nick Evans to return to the action.

The club was also fined £215,000, half of which is suspended for two years, while Quins' Director of Rugby Dean Richards and the club's medical staff were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Hopley felt compelled to question the severity of Williams' punishment in contrast to the eight-week ban recently handed down to South Africa's Schalk Burger for eye-gouging and the eight-month suspension given to former Bath lock Justin Harrison after he admitted three drug-related charges.

"In recent weeks we have seen players found guilty of eye-gouging receiving bans of between eight and 12 weeks, and another player found guilty of misconduct receive an eight-month ban," said Hopley. "For Tom Williams to be singled out and handed a 12-month ban is both excessive and entirely disproportionate. It is an extraordinary decision."

Television cameras spotted Williams winking towards the bench with blood seemingly smeared around his mouth as he left the match in question at The Stoop on April 10. Harlequins managed to engineer a late drop-goal attempt but Evans, who was struggling with a knee injury, pulled it wide and Leinster won the game.

The club, who are considering an appeal, admitted last night to being "surprised and disappointed" that Williams was banned given director of rugby Dean Richards plus two members of the club's medical team - physiotherapist Steph Brennan and Dr Wendy Chapman - all had similar misconduct complaints dismissed.

Williams is the Harlequins player representative with the PRA and Hopley believes his previous good character was not taken into account by the independent disciplinary panel, who reached their decision after a three-day hearing.

"Tom Williams is a player of unquestionable character," added Hopley. "His performances for Harlequins demonstrate an excellent work ethic, and his disciplinary record - one yellow card following persistent team infringements in seven years as a professional player - speaks for itself.

"Tom is held in high regard by his team-mates and peers, and as the players' representative for Harlequins he has shown himself to be extremely conscientious. In addition, Tom has willingly given up his spare time to support many activities benefitting the Players' Charity.

"However, no mention or account seems to have been made of Tom's good character and disciplinary record in mitigation against the charge or the length of the ban. The PRA looks forward to receiving copies of the judgement and then taking appropriate action."

The International Rugby Board are understood to have been pleased with the disciplinary committee's judgement.

An IRB spokesman said, "It is a strong deterrent. There is no room in the game for cheating."

When asked how faking an injury could be considered substantially worse than Burger's offence, the IRB reiterated they are investigating their disciplinary process for eye-gouging.

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