The issue of doping in rugby was raised last week when Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor quizzed Munster head coach Johann van Graan about the province's lock Gerbrandt Grobler.
The South African, who was signed from French club Racing by ex-head coach Rassie Erasmus last summer, made his competitive debut for the province's 'A' team in the 17-12 win against Nottingham Rugby in their British and Irish Cup clash at Ladybay last Friday night.
Ahead of that game, Van Graan was asked about the two-year ban Grobler had served for failing a drug test. He tested positive for drostanolone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid in 2014, and admitted guilt before being served his punishment.
After completing his ban, he signed for Racing, where he played for a season, before signing a one-year contract with Munster. The province had just lost Donncha Ryan to the same French club, and are awaiting the arrival of Scarlets' second row forward Tadhg Beirne.
Grobler injured his ankle in a pre-season match and was forced to undergo surgery, something which delayed his first competitive appearance. Van Graan, who coached the 25-year-old as a schoolboy, stated that he is happy to give him a second chance.
Image: ©INPHO/Daniel Matthams
"The ban in my view is a long time in the past. Like I said, every person on this planet makes mistakes, it's how we come back from them," Van Graan said.
"He's fought through them really well, I thought, and he's a quality individual so we wish him well in his journey back."
There has been a mixed reaction in the week since, from both ex-players and journalists, but what do Irish international players think about a convicted doper being allowed to ply his trade within the Irish provincial system?
Today at UCD, Leinster Rugby held their traditional early-week briefing ahead of their final Champions Cup pool match against Montpellier next Sunday.
Ireland international duo Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong were put in front of the media, and faced questions from OffTheBall.com's Stephen Doyle and TV3 presenter Tommy Martin on the topic of Grobler's past and the decision to sign him.
You can listen to the questions and read the transcript in full below:
Stephen Doyle: Robbie, as a player under the Irish rugby union and when you listen to all of the stuff that’s been going on over the last couple of days with Gerbrandt Grobler. I know he’s a Munster player but when the union is meant to be taking a zero tolerance stance on doping, do you think – as an Irish player – that players who are convicted dopers should be stopped from entering the Irish system?
Robbie Henshaw: I think it’s a tricky one. It’s Munster’s issue. I think for us up here, we can only deal with our own performances and what’s coming our way. As a player, you kinda look to focus on yourself and you don’t look to get sidetracked, in terms of previous players’ history and things like that. I don’t look at it as an issue that I’m concerned about. I just look to focus on my own game.
SD: But if you’re going to come up against a player in an opposition team that has been a convicted doper, and possibly still reaping the benefits from doping, do you think that’s a bit of a concern?
RH: Em...potentially. I’m not sure...I’m not sure of the details, in terms of what benefits he’s getting from...from his previous history. I’m really not sure about the topic so I can’t really answer your question but you know, the rules are there and I suppose he’s done his time off the pitch and he’s come back. Again, it’s Munster’s issue thankfully, it’s not Leinster’s issue so we can only focus on ourselves and we can only do our own jobs.
Tommy Martin: I appreciate it’s very hard to talk about a specific case, in that regard for you guys as players Robbie but just in general, how important is it for Irish rugby to have that zero tolerance approach, in terms of the image of the provinces, the brand if you like, and also the image to younger kids coming through in the game?
RH: Yeah it is, it’s massive and I think, we look at the ‘Keep Rugby Clean’ statement that a lot of players wore in the warm-up for the World Cup, there’s a massive emphasis on keeping the game clean. And I think in Ireland, we’re probably one of the leading nations that, you know I’m not sure in terms of other nations, but I think we keep a clean sport here. I think for younger people coming up through the ranks, I suppose we want to set the standard and we want to keep the sport clean.
TM: The big story in Irish rugby the last week is the fact that Munster signed a player who is somebody who has served a doping ban in the past. You as players looking on that from outside, do you have a view on that? Do you think it’s right that Irish provinces bring in players from outside with that kind of record or is it something you’ve talked in the last week?
Tadhg Furlong: I don’t know a massive amount of the back story or the facts in it. I think that’s Munster’s issue to deal with. I don’t sign players so I probably don’t have a whole lot more to say about it.
SD: Do you think though if a union has a zero tolerance policy, that’s the word they put out Tadhg, do you think it should mean that no convicted dopers come into the Irish rugby environment?
TF: I don’t know to be honest with you. It’s probably something that you have to have a good conversation about. And to be honest with you, I haven’t thought a massive amount about it so I’d be hesitant enough to comment on it.