Rugby Union: Irish international failed drug test

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The Independent Online
THE GREATEST evil of this sporting era appeared to have taken root in Five Nations rugby last night when Sports Council officials informed the Irish governing body that one of their internationals had tested positive for steroid misuse after one of last season's championship matches. There was no public indication of the player's identity or of the match concerned, but it was the clearest possible sign of the passing of union's age of innocence.

Unsubstantiated reports of a drug scandal waiting to break had surfaced on Monday night and the Irish Rugby Football Union joined their counterparts from England, Scotland and Wales in issuing strong denials that theirs was the player or players involved. Ironically, the Irish had already reacted sharply to weekend newspaper claims by Neil Francis, their former international lock, that anabolic steroids had been commonly used in senior rugby circles for at least a decade.

Embarrassed Irish officials refused to comment on last night's developments but Noel Murphy, the president of the union, had earlier condemned "all use of performance enhancing substances" and expressed "full and proactive" support for Sports Council testing initiatives. There was no explanation as to why news of a positive finding had taken some six months to filter through.

Mark Jones, the former Wales No 8, swallowed his own embarrassment yesterday as he begged forgiveness for his latest violent transgression. "I would sincerely like to apologise for a thoughtless, stupid and violent act," he wrote in a letter to Ian Gough, referring to the punch that left Pontypridd's gifted second row forward requiring minor surgery on an eye socket.

Jones, whose behavioural record has little to recommend it, landed a haymaker on his fellow national squad member during the closing stages of Ebbw Vale's victory over Ponty last Saturday. He was sent off by Derek Bevan, the leading international referee, and will face a Welsh Rugby Union disciplinary panel next week. Gough, meanwhile, was left to contemplate three weeks of rest and recuperation following his discharge from East Glamorgan Hospital.

As the pressure grew on the WRU to come down on one of their more regular miscreants with a heavy hand and Gough's solicitors confirmed the possibility of legal action, Jones sought solace in correspondence. "I am very disappointed in myself and I feel very sorry for you, a young guy I respect as a rugby player and like as a person," he told Gough in his letter, adding: "I realise now that I have a problem that I need to correct."

Banned for 28 days in 1996 following a fight with Stuart Evans, the Swansea prop, Jones missed the start of this season after being cited by Llanelli for thumping Iwan Jones, the Scarlets' flanker, during the Welsh Cup final last May. Now a lengthy suspension, ruling the former rugby league professional out of this autumn's Tests with South Africa and Argentina, is on the cards.

He will not be alone in missing the pre-Christmas international programme; three French props of exceptional quality - Christian Califano, Cedric Soulette and the explosive Didier Casadei - are all injured and giving serious cause for concern. Califano, perhaps the finest front-row forward in the world, is the major worry. He is contemplating surgery on his back that would almost certainly rule him out of the entire northern hemisphere campaign.

n Will Carling's extraordinary attempt to earn himself a nice little retirement nest egg by organising his own testimonial match at Wembley next month was officially declared dead in the water by Mike Burton, his promoter. Recent publicity over the former England captain's love life was, apparently, the final nail in the coffin. May the idea rest in peace.