GERBRANDT GROBLER’S DOPING history has been the story of Irish rugby over the last few days, and Ulster’s Chris Henry is the latest to launch a scathing attack on the South African lock.
Grobler was given a two-year ban by South African Rugby in February 2015 for testing positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone while with the Sharks.
His signing for Munster on a one-year stopgap deal was called into question, with many criticising the province for signing a player who had ‘cheated’ the system, and also led IRFU CEO Philip Browne to admit they’d be looking into the recruitment process.
Reaction has been mixed, with names such as Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald calling for the southern province to cut Grobler loose, but many have also leapt to his defence such as team-mates Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony.
And yesterday, Ulster stalwart Henry joined the former group by launching an angry tirade towards the 25-year old for going against the ethos of sport as a whole.
“It is a bit shocking, I guess,” Henry fumed. “I have only been involved in one club, but when you hear the stories, it’s pretty shocking to think the players were willing to do that.
“From my point of view, to achieve something without doing it in an honest way, is very much against sport in general, not just rugby, but sport in general.
“Ultimately you want to win trophies, but if you know that you haven’t done it fairly, then is it really worth it? That would be my opinion.”
The former Ireland flanker is the epitome of someone who has had to bide his time and wait for a chance to break into the set-up at his club through hard work and perseverance.
Nine years ago, Henry made his Ulster debut in a win over Harlequins at Ravenhill in the Heineken Cup at the age of 24 having nearly given up the game altogether over fears he wasn’t going to make it.
With a career in aviation waiting for him, Henry, now 33, stuck it out, and within a year he was playing international rugby in the green of his country, such was his immediate impact at Ulster.
Since then he’s made 24 appearances for Ireland, winning the Six Nations as well as featuring in the finals of the Heineken Cup and Guinness Pro12 for Ulster – not bad for someone who could have been plying his trade at Belfast International Airport instead.
But the former Wallace High student believes that young players at Munster could be turned away by their province’s attitude towards Grobler’s past, particularly with the lack of work the second row had to do.
“If foreign players have been caught doing that, it is hindering home-grown players who are doing it the right way,” the Lisburn man continues.
“I would be the first to say the province has been allowed to have four or five players, and you look at the guys who have been the massive positives, the Robbie Diacks, the Rob Herrings, that’s fantastic that they have decided to come over here and contribute and do it the right way.
“But ultimately, if someone is going to take short-cuts and it is going to close the door for home-grown player from a province, then that is unacceptable. If you asked most players from Ireland they would say the same thing.
“Whenever I speak to the younger lads here, obviously players are going to be ready earlier, physically ready. But it doesn’t happen for every player. It took me until I was 24 to be physically ready to play and within a year I was playing for Ireland.
“That’s what I would say to any player; you have got to be patient, do the training, eat right, but you really shouldn’t be taking anything else to increase your chances because ultimately you are going to be sitting there and you don’t want to have regrets.
“There is more to rugby than being big and lifting heavy weights, that would be my advice to any young player.”
Away from Grobler’s doping scandal, Ulster are preparing for a make-or-break Champions Cup pool clash against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday, with their quarter-final hopes on the line.
A losing bonus point may be enough for Les Kiss’ side, but ultimately Ulster’s destiny is in their own hands as a win would take them into the last eight for the first time since 2014, with a bonus point victory bringing that tie back to Belfast.
It helps that the Ulstermen are last up on Sunday, meaning that, come kick-off at 3:15 in Coventry, they will know exactly what they need to do to end their long-running misery and make it back into the knockout stages.
However, consistency has been a repeated problem for Ulster, who have rarely put together two strong performances in a row, something they will need to do this week after last week’s outing against La Rochelle.
“Those games when you play early in the weekend, it is tough watching all the other games and waiting for the results to come in,” the experienced Henry admits. “For us as players we know we’ve got to go with the same focus to win the game and turn up and perform.
“But obviously we all know our maths, we’re not that silly – maybe some of them don’t! – but if we get four tries, it’s in our hands and we have the opportunity to do something really special.
“It’s nice it’s the last game and we’ll have a good idea of what points are required. We are sitting here, round six with a chance and it has been a long time since we were at the top table.
“I personally have massive confidence in the team and the management and I think that there has been so much hard work put into it by now, that it would be a shame if we don’t go out and put in a performance that we were proud of.
“If Wasps beat us and produce a better display then fair enough, but I don’t believe in having regrets. I believe this year we can get to a quarter-final. Usually when the pressure is on us, this team steps up.
“I have no doubt the boys are primed and ready to go and we can put in something that hopefully is pretty special at the weekend.”
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