Munster CEO Ian Flanagan has confirmed that the province has reviewed its anti-doping protocols in the wake of James Cronin's recent one-month ban and added that the dispensing error at the heart of the matter could have happened to “the man on the street”.
The prop received the suspension after testing positive for prednisolone and prednisone, both banned substances, after Munster's Champions Cup game against Racing 92 last November. The independent judicial officer on the case ruled that it was an unintentional violation due to a dispensing error on the part of the pharmacy involved.
Sport Ireland were not happy with the length of the ban imposed but opted against appealing.
“We take doping and issues associated with it incredibly seriously,” said Flanagan on 'The Crooked Feed', the official Munster Rugby podcast. “As does all of Irish rugby. I also say I have a huge amount of sympathy for James in this. He has been incredibly unfortunate.
“Myself and several of my colleagues have spent a huge amount of time going through all of this. It is the first time that I have been intimately involved with a case like this and I have been incredibly impressed by the thoroughness of the process. We want our sport to be clean. It is vital to rugby. It's what we are all about in terms of rugby's core values.
“On the back of that, yes, we have reviewed our processes. You can always do better and that was my first question: is there something we have missed out on here? And I am confident that, having looked at this in great detail, this was just a very unfortunate third-party dispensing error. It literally could happen to the man in the street where a wrong prescription could be dispensed.
“Clearly the one-month sanction reflects the fact that there was no significant blame or fault attached to James. We have made it clear that we are looking forward to James coming back and playing for Munster again because clearly he has gone through a huge amount of stress and worry. No-one knows how a process and an investigation and a sanction is going to work out.” Flanagan discussed a number of topics across the 25 minutes of the podcast, not least the challenge facing the province and Irish rugby in general as the sector attempts to navigate a way through the current pandemic and associated issues.
It is, he admitted, an “unprecedented” challenge given matchday incomes and hospitality have been switched off for almost three months and it was pointed out again that the provinces are far more dependent on turnstiles ticking over than even the IRFU.
The national body will bring in substantial revenue via its broadcast arrangements if their outstanding Six Nations games against Italy and France are played even behind closed doors, and he was unequivocal in stating that the provinces need paying fans at their games asap.
That said, he did declare that Munster are in “reasonable shape” and that they are far from unique in facing such challenges. There has been some good news amid all this with the arrival in Limerick of their new signings.
RG Snyman and his wife still have a few days to go in quarantine but Damian De Allende has completed that stretch and has moved into his house. Roman Salanoa has made the shorter trip from Dublin down the country and Matt Gallagher is due to pitch up very soon from Saracens.
“I have a huge amount of sympathy for them,” said Flanagan. “It can't be easy coming to a new city or country at the best of times and Munster is known for our friendliness and our welcome and helping them all settle in.
“I was speaking to Johann (van Graan) about when he arrived and he had a whole bunch of guys, Niall O'Donovan and George Murray, taking him out that first night for a drink and to welcome him to Limerick and to Munster.
“I can't wait to see these guys run out in a red jersey for the first time because they are very talented players that we have added to a very strong squad.” The expectation is that Snyman and De Allende in particular will be huge additions to a side that has hit a glass ceiling in recent times. Any success on the pitch will be more welcome than ever as Flanagan seeks to make the most of the Munster brand off it.
“It’s a hugely exciting time for rugby in terms of what may happen in the coming years. Rugby is going to attract huge new audiences.
"There’s an enormous opportunity for Munster, probably more than any club, to increase our fans around the world for first generation rugby supporters to identify with Munster as a club.”