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Doping talk lingers as Rugby World Cup prepares to kick off

Most players would rather not talk about the issue, but another failed test in South Africa has made it unavoidable.

THE EVE OF the World Cup and talk of doping fills the air.

For players and coaches, it’s lingering like a bad smell. For many of the rest of us, watching from a slightly safer distance, it’s an inescapable shadow that could very well skew the outlook across the entire tournament.

To rugby’s credit, this issue is on the agenda because of a failed test. Springbok star Aphiwe Dyantyi was the toast of the game last November when the wing won breakthrough player of the year at the World Rugby awards.

Nine months on, the gong is more than a little tarnished. But South Africa plough on ahead into a gargantuan opening weekend clash against the All Blacks. They are certainly not the only nation with doping issues, but Dyantyi is far from the first red flag that has been waved for them.

Last year, tests at Craven Week (the annual schoolboy rugby tournament) unearthed six positive tests for anabolic steroids. Teenage boys hoping to get the edge in a culture that demands them to be bigger, faster stronger and quick to heal.

Given that Ireland have welcomed players from that part of the world into their ranks, it would have been remiss of journalists not to ask about the issue. And though no player is all that keen on discussing the issue, risking any distraction to era-defining games at hand, to CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn’s credit they took a harder line than those wearing fetching Springbok blazers.

“When I was young I was out in the sticks. I never really came across a lot. It’s something that, if you want to go look for it (drugs) and you want to do it, it’s probably (easy to get),” said Stander today. 

I don’t think it’s a great thing to do at all. It’s a great sport and we need to keep it clean. In Ireland anyway they look after all those things and make sure everyone is on track, so again I think it’s something we need to get out of the sport.”

Stander recalls that the authorities had ample testing and were ‘on top of’ doping control when he played Craven Week in 2008 and witnessed nothing to suggest cases arise by an individuals’ actions.

“If you want to go down that path, I don’t stand for it at all. It’s influence from the outside, maybe.“

Stander’s former Munster team-mate Gerbrandt Grobler certainly felt that outside influence, admitting in an interview with The Guardian last year that his own turn to a banned substance was driven by fear of losing his contract after a spate of injuries.

Worryingly, even after serving his time, Grobler felt he needed to be beyond his playing days before blowing the whistle on anyone who helped him cheat.

“It’s something I don’t want to describe in too much depth until I’ve finished with rugby because there are a few bridges that might be burned.”

keith-earls-and-cj-stander-during-the-press-conference CJ Stander and Keith Earls with the travelling Irish press pack. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jean Kleyn, who is hoping to be involved when Ireland begin their World Cup campaign against Scotland on Sunday, was also petitioned on the subject today.

Quite fairly, he suggested that the problem exists in more than just one country, but quickly retracted his adopted nation from the list of suspects.

“I think doping is wrong, I make no qualms about it. I think it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be done.

Saying that South Africa has a problem? There has been a few cases over the last few years, but there’s a few cases everywhere. It comes out everywhere, except not as much in Ireland really.

“So, I suppose everybody except Ireland. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.”

Brian O’Driscoll wasn’t quite as quick to absolve Irish rugby. The blemish on South Africa’s reputation at present down to positive tests, and the former centre is concerned that there is no equivalent to the tests carried out at Craven Week.

“In Ireland, we don’t have testing at a schoolboy level which for me I don’t understand – that’s where the real temptation is,” O’Driscoll told Off The Ball last night.

“If I was a parent of a 15, 16-year-old skinny kid that is being told they’re not going to make it because they’re not big enough, and there’s temptation and something presents itself, I would want my kid to be tested.”

It’s an uncomfortable subject for sure. Rugby players will be glad to see rugby matches arrive thick and fast to fill the agenda with something new.

The rest of us will have to keep watching and wondering.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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