Philip Browne has suggested Munster’s signing of Gerbrandt Grobler was down to a “crying need” for second-row cover, a situation that led the province and the IRFU to ignore the player’s former doping ban.
The IRFU chief executive said yesterday that the union will review its policy on signing players with a history of doping, but revealed they were fully aware of the player’s past when Rassie Erasmus presented the former Stormers lock to them last year.
With Donnacha Ryan moving to Racing 92 in France and Tadhg Beirne not available until this coming summer, Munster needed someone quickly.
Grobler, who was banned for two years in 2014 after admitting he took steroids after a run of injuries had disrupted his progress, was pitched to David Nucifora and the IRFU’s High Performance unit and given the thumbs-up to make the move to Ireland.
“How it works is, if a province wishes to bring in a foreign player, they have to produce a CV, a playing record, all of that, and it gets considered by the IRFU High Performance department, with the province and then they make a decision. It’s a joint decision,” Browne explained.
So, clearly having a doping ban on that CV is not something that would rule out signing said player?
“Evidently…” Browne replied. The obvious question is ‘why not’? “Well... if you were to ask me ‘do we have a specific policy, for that specific set of circumstances, the answer is no we don’t.
“So, the reality is — do we need to consider having a policy for that particular set of circumstances? The answer is we need to consider that.
“The reality is — there was a view taken, that there was a crying need for a second row in Munster, Tadhg Beirne was not available until this year, Rassie identified this player, and a decision was taken to bring him in.
“On the basis he’d been playing for a year in Racing, that he was medically cleared, he’d done his time, and the view was here’s a young fella, who made a rash decision, regrets it and at the end of the day he could make a contribution to Munster for a year, within an environment that is very different to any other, at the end of the day there are stringent anti- doping protocols and systems in place, which we are proud of.
“If you’re asking me would we consider putting a policy in place to deal with that particular set of circumstances, I think we’ll consider it, because it’s obviously an issue. It was raised ‘from a values point of view, is it the right thing?’ — and we need to have that discussion, and we will have it.”
Browne says Ireland will continue to look overseas for players to boost the number of options available to the provinces and, in turn, the national team.
South Africa has been a particularly fruitful hunting ground for the likes of Munster and Ulster, in particular.
Munster announced the capture of two teenage players from South Africa last week, but Browne says Grobler’s specific situation will not derail future recruitment from the country.
“We are in a position where we have to field four professional teams which are competitive,” Browne said. “We have to either produce them in Ireland or in the circumstances where we do not have certain players to fill positions, we have to look outside. We shouldn’t limit our talent pool to the island of Ireland and we never have, certainly in all of the time I have been here.
“We have always looked at talent outside of Ireland who are Irish-qualified, particularly in the UK.
“We had Dion Ó Cuinneagáin from South Africa many years ago, we had Keith Gleeson from Australia. We have our networks across the world who keep an eye on young, talented players and if they are Irish-qualified and wish to commit to the Ireland system and wish to play for Ireland, we are prepared to look at them and that has always been the case.”
Meanwhile, Browne has said that even the sports bodies who now call Aviva Stadium home were surprised by how quickly the name ‘Aviva Stadium’ took over from ‘Lansdowne Road’ in the popular imagination.
Speaking at the announcement yesterday that Aviva Ireland has extended its naming rights to the stadium until 2025, he said: “One of the extraordinary things is the way in which the name got traction so quickly.
“Even we were sceptical about how it would gain traction but it did and that has been enormously beneficial.”
Welcoming the extended sponsorship, Browne said: “It’s a great outcome for the IRFU, the Aviva Stadium, and the FAI in that it’s a continuation of what has been a very successful partnership.”
FAI boss John Delaney said: “Aviva have been great partners with the whole stadium project from day one and we are delighted they have renewed their naming rights with us.”
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