Laporte: give De Villiers a chance

PROP Pieter De Villiers has not been ruled out of international rugby union indefinitely after testing positive for ecstasy and cocaine, French coach Bernard Laporte insisted yesterday.

De Villiers will miss the defending Six Nations champions’ opening match against England at Twickenham on February 15 after testing positive for the recreational drugs. He has denied knowingly taking any banned substances.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. The man deserves to be defended,” Laporte said after announcing his 22-player squad for the England match. “Pieter helped French rugby a lot and we can help him to recover.”

Team nanager Jo Maso added: “We have decided to leave him in peace but he stays in our hearts because he has always been a very respectable man and a senior member of our team.”

The South African front row forward, who is the first French rugby union international to test positive, has asked for a second test.

“I have always been true to my sport and my club. I never took drugs or doping products ... I’m going to ask for a B test,” he said.

Laporte and Maso hinted they were ready to accept De Villiers’s line of defence. “The only thing I remember is a post-match party after a games against the Harlequins in Paris on December 14,” De Villiers said. “I drank a lot of beers in several pubs. I was sick as never before. Maybe I was trapped.”

Laporte said it was not a clear-cut doping case. “Pieter is not accused of using performance-enhancing drugs but to have used drugs for pleasure,” said Laporte. “It’s not as bad, is it ?”

French federation president Bernard Lapasset said he was unsure which sanctions De Villiers could face if he was found guilty by a disciplinary commission. “It’s a special case because it is not a clear case of doping. It is more a case of drug abuse,” he said. “We have to check on that. He could be banned for life or for six months, I don’t know.”

Maso said that as soon as the squad assembled on Sunday evening he would remind the players they had special duties because they represented France and French rugby union.

But the French team manager also said his first task during the week of training would be “to demystify” the De Villiers case.

“We want to prepare the England in the best possible conditions,” he said. “We want to go to Twickenham to win.”

Saracens prop Christian Califano has been drafted into the French squad to face England in place of de Villiers.

Califano, 30, having played 65 times for his country, is the most capped prop in French rugby history.

France coach Bernard Laporte added: “We have to be efficient and ready in all departments. This tournament is preparation for the World Cup. We won this last year and want to remain number one.”

Legendary Irish hookers Keith Wood and Karl Mullen will help raise funds for Garryowen FC U-12 March tour to London Irish when they hold an open forum at the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel tomorrow at 8pm.

The star players of different eras are shaping up to go head to head in an interesting duel between the amateur method of the past the modern professional player. Their views and opinions will be openly discussed with members of the public.

Tickets are available from: Rugby Plus, Gleeson Sports, Limerick Sports Store. Others ticket sources are Liam Glynn 061-418800; Michael Healy 061-410966; Tom Barry 086- 8313248; Donal O'Sullivan 061-336501.

FRANCE squad (v. England)

Forwards: C Califano, J Crenca, S Marconnet, R Ibanez, J Rue, D Auradou, O Brouzet, F Pelous, S Betsen, S Chabal, I Harinordoquy, O Magne.

Backs: F Galthie (captain), D Yachvili, F Gelez, G Merceron, T Castaignede, V Clerc, X Garbajosa, C Poitrenaud, A Rougerie, D Traille.

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