Munster Rugby last night refuted accusations the Gerbrandt Grobler affair has damaged the province’s brand internationally and claimed there are no mixed messages about doping within the Munster setup.
Also, Rugby Players Ireland (RPI) believe Grobler’s experience of having tested positive for a banned substance can act as a deterrent to Ireland’s homegrown players within its anti-doping environment.
Grobler, 25, served a two-year suspension after testing positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone while at Western Province in 2014 and was signed by Munster last July, having spent a season with Racing 92 as he resumed his career following the ban.
A lengthy ankle injury means the South African has yet to make a senior competitive appearance for the province, but his availability and subsequent appearance for the A team in the B&I Cup last week prompted sharp criticism of Munster for signing a tainted player and of the IRFU for sanctioning the transfer against its stated “zero tolerance” policy for dopers.
In a statement in response to questions from Newstalk’s Off The Ball, Munster restated its commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to drugs: “We are in line with Irish Rugby on this front and support a zero tolerance approach to doping in Irish Rugby. The ongoing tests, investment and structures in place support all efforts in ensuring rugby is a clean sport in Ireland.”
The statement said all parties involved with Grobler’s recruitment were aware of his drugs ban and the player was spoken to about the matter.
“The decision to offer Gerbrandt a contract was based on requirement, character references, skill-set and experience of playing at top-level rugby.
“There are no mixed messages internally. As an organisation, Munster Rugby’s stance on doping is in line with Irish Rugby and World Rugby and we support, and action, all efforts in ensuring and promoting a drug-free sport.
“All agree, including the player himself, that what he did in 2014 was wrong. Gerbrandt is an example to others, in particular our younger players, as to why you should not dope in sport — he nearly threw away his career because of a bad decision he made. Gerbrandt’s experience is a deterrent to any young player in our system.
“Munster Rugby have fantastic support staff in place for players who come through our development system and they are in place to educate players on supplement use and our food-first approach.”
The statement concludes by saying “not at all” to the idea that the province’s brand has been damaged.
“Munster Rugby is a people-first organisation. The character references and recommendations from people we respect were paramount in our decision to recruit Gerbrandt from Racing 92 for the 2017/18 season. Secondly, his ability to contribute to the squad was similarly confirmed by those who have previously worked with him. Based on our assessment of the player’s suitability and the knowledge that he had international clearance from World Rugby, Munster Rugby were satisfied to give Gerbrandt the opportunity to continue his chosen career as he moved on from Racing 92. We support Gerbrandt’s inclusion in our squad, and at this stage he has represented Munster in the preseason game against Worcester Warriors in August, and most recently lined out for Munster A against Nottingham in the British & Irish Cup.”
Meanwhile, RPI promised to continue working with him to help rebuild his career. In a statement issued to the Irish Examiner by RPI communications manager and legal counsel Richard McElwee, it noted Grobler had served a two-year ban from the game, “accepted his sanction and returned to the play as per the process set out by World Rugby”.
“We have been working with Gerbrandt Grobler since his arrival into Ireland in July. Through his time with us, Gerbrandt made it very clear that he was very keen to make a good impression on our game both on and off the field. While we could never condone the use of performance-enhancing substances, the player has paid his penalty. Having risked his entire livelihood, he returned to the game keen to avail of a fresh start which he is entitled to do,” said RPI in its statement which added that “his experience offers a deterrent to our players”.
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