Rugby Union: Irish are forced into the open over drug claim

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a long time in coming, but Ireland's rugby hierarchy finally made a clean breast of things in Dublin yesterday. They publicly admitted that one of their leading international players was under investigation for alleged drug abuse after testing positive at one of last season's Five Nations' Championship matches. Noel Murphy, the president of the Irish union, refused to identify the accused for legal reasons, saying that the matter was now in the hands of a three-man tribunal.

Murphy confirmed that a second case had also been referred, while a third player had already been investigated and absolved of any breach of regulations. However, there remained a considerable degree of confusion as to who had been accused of what.

According to the United Kingdom Sports Council, which carried out the testing on behalf of the rugby authorities, one player provided a specimen containing traces of the anabolic agent norandrosterone while another revealed excessive levels of the male hormone testosterone. There was no mention by the Sports Council of any third case.

All of which served to underline the hit and miss nature of drugs testing in top-flight rugby, at least in these parts. Murphy revealed that although the positive tests were secured at matches last season, the Irish Rugby Football Union received no Sports Council notification until Tuesday of this week. "I will seek an urgent meeting next week regarding their methods of reporting such matters," said the former Lion.

He went on to challenge Neil Francis, an Irish international second row of recent vintage, to substantiate newspaper allegations that steroid abuse had been rife among his countrymen for the last decade.

"A whole generation of Irish international and club players have been tarnished by the allegations and they are entitled to have this accusation removed and their names cleared," Murphy said.

Only two serious drugs offenders had previously come to light in British or Irish rugby, both of them Welsh. Richie Griffiths, a centre who won 'B' caps for his country, tested positive for a banned hormone in 1991 while Paul Jones, the Llanelli lock, admitted injecting testosterone two years ago.