Rugby Players Ireland has stressed its commitment to supporting Gerbrandt Grobler through the current furore surrounding his served two-year suspension for doping.
The Munster lock’s past, which saw the South African banned from rugby after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 2014 whilst playing for Western Province, has returned to haunt the now 25-year-old, whose transfer to the Irish province from Racing 92 last July was sanctioned by the IRFU.
In the face of fierce criticism of that decision, Munster defended signing Grobler on a one-year contract and, along with head coach Johann van Graan and captain Peter O’’Mahony, who is an RPI board member, have supported the player’s right to rebuild his career post-suspension.
RPI chief executive Simon Keogh supports that stance and told the Irish Examiner that his organisation, the representative body for players in Ireland, was offering its support to the forward, who will play for Munster A in Cork tonight in the B&I Cup match against Ospreys Select.
“We’re talking about an individual here and he has served his time within the requirements of what is there,” Keogh said. “It’s not a lifetime ban that he got but it seems to be a lifetime of criticism that he seems to be getting.
“He served the requisite period he was supposed to, he has done so, and now he’s getting on with the game and rightly so. We’re supporting him throughout this.”
Keogh said RPI player development manager Marcus Horan has been Grobler’s point of contact with his organisation and was offering on the ground support for a player whom, Conor Murray told The Times yesterday, was having a difficult time at the centre of this situation and was “hurting”.
“It’s affecting him badly, all the stuff people have been saying and writing and going after the club,” Murray said. “It’s a time we need to remain tight and ignore this shit, and it is shit. It is people creating something.”
Keogh added: “He’s an individual with the spotlight right on top of him, so it’s important for him to have the supports which we offer him and Marcus has been looking after him in that regard.”
Speaking yesterday morning to the Irish Examiner, Keogh said he had not seen the comments of Ulster and Ireland flanker Chris Henry, who said that it was “unacceptable” to recruit foreign players who “take shortcuts” if it is going to “close the door for a home-grown player from a province.”
Asked if those comments were reflective of the RPI’s membership, former Leinster and Ireland A winger Keogh said: “I can’t speak for individuals but certainly from an organisational perspective, we’re not involved in the recruitment of players. All we can do is that when players become our members we support them in any way we can. Regardless of their past, we’ll always support our players to ensure they have everything in place to get on with their roles.
“As I said, Gerbrandt has served his time and he’s getting on with it now. We’re here to support once the members come in, we can’t speak for individuals views and that’s our position on it.”
Keogh also suggested that Henry’s view might be different if a player in Grobler’s situation was his teammate.
“You’ve heard from players within the Munster squad and they’re supportive of their teammate. I would imagine if you had any other player questioned on it when their teammate is in that position then they’re going to support him.
“Obviously if you talk about it across different teams in a different situation it may be different. When the player is in your environment and you get to know the individual and the work ethic that they have, you’re going to be supportive of it.”
The RPI boss said his organisation would continue to implement its player education programmes on anti-doping.
“I think World Rugby have done a good job with their Keep Rugby Clean modules and all we can do is push our players towards that and make sure they’re educated and understanding.
“I think if there are any positives to be taken from this, it’s that Gerbrandt will serve as a live situation whereby players understand the implications of doing the wrong thing.”
That Grobler was now an example to younger players, he added: “Unfortunately for him, yes. That’s the world we live in.
“You don’t want to pick out a person as a tool for education, he’s an individual that has had a lot of spotlight and pressures on him. It’s difficult for him but players can look at his situation and see what the impact and outcome of your actions are and essentially what happens to you if you fall foul of the rules.”
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