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1 January 2010 | by Paul Gamston


The rugby union world has been rocked in 2009 by the scandal at Harlequins Rugby Club. The controversy centred around the shedding of blood, or not, as it turned out.

In an important Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Leinster, played on 12 April, Harlequins’ winger, Tom Williams was taken off the pitch with a blood injury and while he was off the pitch a replacement came on. As he was leaving the pitch the TV cameras spotted Williams winking towards the bench with ‘blood’ smeared around his mouth. The unravelling story of subsequent months showed that there was more to this incident than initially met the eye.

As we investigate what went on I would like to compare it with another event which involved the shedding of blood 2,000 years ago, its purpose and the resulting effect of the actions taken.

Fake verses real

In the post-match investigations it came to light that Tom Williams was not really bleeding after all. He had inserted a blood capsule from his sock into his mouth to justify a replacement – the return of fly-half Nick Evans to the field with five minutes remaining. He then asked the physio in the treatment room to cut his mouth with a scalpel to cover up the deception.

Over the course of the hearing, the European Rugby Cup (ERC) committee heard submissions from a number of witnesses as well as considering further evidence, that included broadcast footage from the game.

This was an elaborate, pre-meditated scam, hiding behind what appeared to be a messy injury. How did he keep that blood capsule intact in his sock? How did he feel every time he went into a tackle? Did he fear the capsule bursting, or was it subtly delivered nearer to the incident?

In stark comparison, Jesus Christ died a horrible death on a Roman torture instrument 2,000 years ago. Although some have sought to teach that someone was substituted for Jesus before the death (perhaps Judas), or else that He did not die, but fainted and later revived in the cool of His rock tomb, the evidence points very strongly towards the reality of His death.

In addition to the many, many witnesses who saw Him die – the place where He was crucified was by the side of a public pathway – there are a number of other facts which clearly show that His death was real. These include: the Roman soldiers were experts in cruel death; Pilate queried the death and would certainly have punished any incompetence; the chief priest who had called for His death watched Him die, close disciples handled the body as they took it and buried it; and the disciples mourned His death and took some convincing of His resurrection. Far from being some well planned ruse, this was all too horribly real.

Several convinced sceptics have set out to prove the historicity of events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ false, and have been won over by the evidence. Lee Strobel’s book The case for Christ is a good place to start to investigate this further. Lee was a sceptic who was determined to prove his wife’s new-found faith wrong and ended up being convinced by the evidence.

Selfish verses selfless

Tom Williams’ fake blood was all in aid of a scam to help his team win. By coming off, he allowed the specialist kicker, Nick Evans, to come on to give the team an edge as the game drew to a conclusion. Though he was ‘doing it for the team’ it was bad sportsmanship and a cynical way to gain an advantage.

Again in contrast we learn that Jesus’ death on the cross was entirely selfless. He wasn’t dying for the team but for those on the opposite side. He wasn’t dying for the club but the enemy. He wasn’t dying to gain a cynical advantage but to rescue lost rebels. He was paying the penalty for those who thoroughly deserve to be punished.

Romans 6:23 tells us that ‘the wages of sin is death’. What we owe for our life of rebellion against God is physical and spiritual death, an eternity of God’s wrath. However, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).

Failure verses success

The grand irony is that the Tom Williams’ scam failed. Harlequins did manage to engineer a late drop-goal attempt for Evans, but, struggling himself with a knee injury, he pulled it wide. The team lost the match, the club was fined £215,000, some people lost their jobs, and Williams has been banned from playing rugby for a period of twelve months. Yes, the grand plan failed miserably. The ERC released a statement saying, ‘It was the view of the committee that this was a very serious offence and one that damaged the reputation of the tournament and of rugby union’.

The sacrificial death of Christ cannot fail and has had a powerful life-changing effect in the lives of many millions over the last 2,000 years. It was part of a plan drawn up in eternity past. It involves not just two nations, but all the nations of the world.

Men and women, boys and girls from all backgrounds have been made alive spiritually, released from the grip of spiritual darkness, been brought into God’s family, been forgiven their sins and given a hope and a future. God’s grand plan will be completed successfully. There will be a vast multitude that no-one can number, gathered in His new creation, to enjoy a relationship with Him in a world of perfect harmony for ever.

Where does that leave you? Part of a world of selfish fakes and failures, deceiving and being deceived, or connected to the selfless, real, successful love of Christ for lost men and women?

It’s better to own up than to be found out publicly at the last day. Repent of your sins now and turn to Christ today. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).

[In 2010] Paul Gamston [was] the associate pastor of Malpas Road Evangelical Church, Newport.