Once more rugby’s relationship with performance enhancing drugs has made headlines this week, with numerous individuals in the Irish press suggesting South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory should perhaps come with an asterisk.
According to Neil Francis, the 36 cap ex-Ireland international, “how certain are we when we point a finger to suggest there is a steroid culture in a country that has just won the World Cup? Fairly certain.”
He then went on,“is Dyantyi [the Springbok winger caught doping prior to the start of the World Cup], a poster boy for the World Cup and winner of World Rugby’s young player of the year [in 2018], the only one? Or the only one to be caught?
“The player in my view will go down but the system stays in place. What were we saying about latitude and dispensation? Do we need to put an asterisk beside the winners of the 2019 World Cup?”
This accusations are, it must be noted, essentially based on suspicion and experience rather than direct evidence, but, corroborated as they have been by other such ex-pros, like Alan Quinlan, they are unlikely to be completely groundless.
“South African rugby has had a problem with doping for years,” said Quinlan in September, “going right back to my playing days.”
Indeed, the evidence coming out of South Africa does make particularly grim reading.
A 21-year-old South African second-row, Hendre Stassen, who plays his rugby at Stade Francais, is also facing a four year ban for unnaturally high testosterone levels. At a famous Cape Town rugby school, a coach has been suspended following allegations from an ex-student that the man helped him to inject a banned substance.
Perhaps most shocking of all, in the 2018 Craven Week annual schoolboy rugby tournament, there were six failures from 122 drugs tests, with some players allegedly having doped from the age of 14.
Evidently then, South African rugby has dopers present. But then so do all nations. Wales in particular has a shocking doping record at grassroots level, and so to single the Springboks out, given they have just won the World Cup, feels slightly bitter.
“The sad thing about professional sport,” Warren Gatland told Off The Ball radio this morning, “whether its a team sport or an individual sport, and when there’s money involved, there’s that potential for it to be exploited with performance enhancing drugs.”
That is the fundamental reality rugby must face up to. Accusing one nation, because they may be more physical, or more successful, is not beneficial.
Are there not also players doping in Ireland, in England, or in New Zealand? Of course there are. No sport, no country is 100% clean, and, given how physical rugby is, you would have to be delusional to think players at all levels are not seeking advantages where they can find them.
Pointing fingers, however, is not a constructive way to go about resolving such an issue.
Written by Joe Ronan