Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, an injury doubt for Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with Castres, says he and his squad will stand by Gerbrandt Grobler, as the debate continues over the decision to sign a player who served a two-year doping ban.
Grobler, 25, signed for Munster from Racing 92 in July on a one-year contract, but has yet to play a senior competitive game, having injured an ankle against Worcester Warriors in pre-season. The South African had tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone while playing for the Stormers in 2014 and was given a two-year suspension, forcing him to sit out the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
He signed for Racing on the completion of his ban and, after a season in the French Top14, joined Munster as Rassie Erasmus looked to sign a short-term replacement to cover the loss of Donnacha Ryan to the club from whence Grobler had come.
Last week marked the lock’s return to fitness and his availability for selection for the first time since signing and it prompted a debate as to whether Munster and the IRFU, which sanctions all transfers in and out of the Irish provinces, had been right to sign a player tainted by doping.
Yesterday, as Munster began preparations for their must-win final pool game at home to Castres, O’Mahony, rehabbing an ankle injury suffered in last weekend’s loss at Racing, was asked how he had processed the fact that one of his team-mates had served a two-year doping suspension.
“Look, I can only speak from my point of view and the players’ point of view that, as far as we’re concerned, Ger, GG, he’s done his time,” said the Munster skipper. “He’s done his two years from WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the Rugby Players’ Association.
Interviewed Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray today and they came out in support of Gerbrandt Grobler pic.twitter.com/3KP3U067Jy— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) January 16, 2018
“As far as I’m concerned, Munster signed him. He’d played 20 games or whatever for Racing, then we signed him, obviously on good terms, good references that we got, as we do for all our signings, and he’s come here, he’s struggled with injury and he’s been a great guy to have around the place.
He’s working very diligently on his rehab and he’s struggled a little bit mentally at times with that, because he obviously wants to come and play, which is what every rugby player wants to do.
“As far as me and the other players are concerned, he’s been great for us and we’ll certainly stand by him.”
Grobler played last weekend for Munster A in the B&I Cup win at Nottingham, as the debate about him raged on, critics pointing to disquiet over a previously banned player being brought into an environment where young players are expected to follow the standards set by senior squad members.
Head coach Johann van Graan, who inherited Grobler as a player from director of rugby Rassie Erasmus when he joined Munster in November, said he understood the public misgivings and he referred to his statement last week that, from his viewpoint, the player had served his time.
“I can understand it. Doping is wrong. You can never say anything good about it,” said van Graan. “In Gerbrandt Grobler’s case, he had a two-year ban from World Rugby. He served his ban, went to another club, Munster signed him. I came in eight weeks ago.
"I am greeting GG, all other players, all management, except [defence coach] JP [Ferreira] because JP came in a bit later. I am the coach of Munster at this stage. I am not going to comment on any process. I said what I wanted to say last week.”
Munster’s chief concern as they bid to qualify for a record 17th European quarter-final is captain O’Mahony, who lasted 55 minutes on Racing’s 4G surface, before being replaced and his ankle placed in ice. Yesterday, he was walking freely, but sat out training.
“I’m working with the medical staff. I’ve a couple of things to come through. I’ll see how the week goes,” said O’Mahony, while van Graan added: “He won’t train today. He could possibly play at the weekend. We’ll manage him through the week and we’ll see in two days’ time if he’s able to train.”
There was also some positive news about returning players, with Ireland hooker Niall Scannell on the way back from a rib and shoulder injury sustained during the January 1 PRO14 loss at Ulster.
Scannell’s fellow hooker Mike Sherry was yesterday added to Munster’s Champions Cup squad in place of long-term injured prop Liam O’Connor, while flanker Conor Oliver replaced lock Mark Flanagan, deregistered after rejoining Saracens following a short-term loan.
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