IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has defended the federation’s decision to recruit Gerbrandt Grobler, the Munster lock who served a two-year ban for doping.
Browne believes the South African, suspended in 2014 after testing positive for steroids, made a ‘poor decision’ as a 21-year-old, but deserves a second chance.
However, Browne admits the IRFU will review its recruitment policy in light of the outcry over the now 25 year-old’s imminent provincial debut and when asked if the IRFU are ‘going to bring in drug cheats’ he said “I don’t think we are.”
“The situation with Grobler is that there was knowledge of his background, yes,” Browne admitted, at the announcement of an extension of Aviva’s Stadium naming rights at Lansdowne Road.
“The IRFU and Munster operate together in terms of bringing in foreign players.
“With Grobler, he was a young man in a very different rugby environment and he made a poor decision. He’s been punished for that poor decision.
“Having said that, everyone deserves a chance. Can any of you look at yourselves and say ’I’ve never made a poor decision in my life before?’ Probably not.
“We’re all guilty of making poor decisions.
“I think, with 20/20 vision, when you look at it, would we consider how we would deal with a similar situation in the future, the answer is yes.
“I think we probably need to consider how we would deal with something in a similar set of circumstances in the future.
“I think it’s something that it’s self-evident that’s something that we do need to do.”
Browne insists the IRFU need to continue to recruit overseas in certain positions, and will continue to look to South Africa, despite the country’s mixed anti-doping record.
“The reality is that we will obviously consider our policies, we will consider how we deal with a similar set of circumstances in the future, but the fact of the matter is our real focus is on developing Irish talent and it always has been, and yes there are times in the cycle when we have difficulties in actually getting players in certain positions and at times we have to look overseas to get those players, and then there’s the cachet player, where we bring a cachet player in who adds value to a provincial squad.
“We are going to continue to have players coming in from overseas because the reality is in the short to medium term we are never going to be able to fill all our teams. Don’t forget we have four teams with a small playing base and our aim and ambition has always been to have at least three players in every position, 1 to 15 across the provinces who are Irish-born and capable of playing for Ireland.
“Now that is our ambition because we must deliver for our national coach, so that he has the options available to him in terms of selection and I think we’re doing a reasonable job of that.”
Browne defended the IRFU’s anti-doping policies, and insisted that Grobler was now in one of the most ‘stringent testing environments’ worldwide.
“In this circumstance there’s a young man, who made a poor decision in an environment which is very different to the environment he’s operating in now. And at this stage, he’s had a pretty torrid time for the last week or 10 days,” Browne said.
“The Irish rugby environment is probably one of the most stringent environments in terms of drug testing worldwide.
“It has always been that case. We’ve worked closely with Sport Ireland and over 70% of the user pay tests that are carried out by Sport Ireland are actually for rugby.
“We have a targeted programme, we particularly target players coming up through the system so all of our provincial academy squads are targeted so we are confident that we have a really good regime in place in terms of anti-doping in Ireland.
“Furthermore, we’ve made an investment over the years in terms of education.
“We now have five people involved full-time in the ’Spirit’ programme and four - one in each of the provinces and then Ann-Marie Hughes who co-ordinates.
“A large part of that programme is actually around supplements and anti-doping, working at schools’ level, club level and obviously our professional teams are served by nutritionists and by qualified medical practitioners.
“There’s no question that our players are fully aware of what’s required of them, they are fully aware of the dangers and the risks to their career in relation to abuse of banned substances.
“I think it’s very important that that is put out there, that that is understood. Not all of you may have read our annual report in relation to anti-doping and the evidence is all in there.
“The proof is in the eating of that particular pudding in that we have a pretty good record in terms of cleared testing and a lack of positives over the years.”
- Irish Examiner