The Rugby Football Union will investigate the latest allegations of "social" drugs abuse by Bath players, and bring the full force of the World Anti-Doping Agency code into play, if an internal inquiry at the Recreation Ground fails to bear fruit over the coming days. Twickenham officials have repudiated suggestions that the governing body is already involved on a formal basis, but there is no doubting the RFU's determination to get to the bottom of the affair.
Reports last weekend claimed that an unspecified number of Bath players had refused to participate in drugs tests following allegations of substance abuse. There were also accounts of a violent disturbance when members of the first team who had travelled to London for an end-of-season celebration ended up in the same Fulham bar as a number of Harlequins players.
Senior management figures at the Rec, including the chairman Andrew Brownsword and the chief executive Bob Calleja, have been on the case all week. Significantly, there have also been signs of a split in the playing camp, with a significant group of players – what might be called the moral majority – speaking privately of their exasperation at the excesses of the wilder element in the squad.
Last December, one of Bath's leading players, the England and Lions tight-head prop Matt Stevens, tested positive for cocaine use. He confessed his guilt in a television interview and was subsequently banned for two years. Earlier this month, the head coach Steve Meehan said: "We had a nasty jolt with the Matt Stevens business and that changed the dynamics, but these players keep bouncing back. It's a reflection of a great team spirit." These latest developments will have come as a rude awakening to the Australian.
Bath have been losing players to Premiership rivals with some frequency – the Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has joined Gloucester, while the Romanian prop Paulica Ion is on his way to London Irish – and yesterday, there was another departure when James Scaysbrook, the open-side flanker, opted to drop down a league and sign for Exeter. But the major talking point amongst Bath supporters has been the abrupt departure of the Wallaby Test lock Justin Harrison, who announced his retirement for "personal reasons". He has a year left on his contract.
By and large, Northampton have players joining rather than leaving, and with good reason. The Midlanders made an excellent fist of the league programme in their first year back in the Premiership, losing only a single game at Franklin's Gardens, and if they beat Bourgoin in tonight's European Challenge Cup final they will qualify for next season's Heineken Cup.
With the exception of the injured No 8 Roger Wilson, they will be at full strength. Many eyes will be on the Scotland prop Euan Murray, who missed Monday's initial Lions get-together in Surrey on club orders and has been the subject of a smouldering row ever since. Indeed, the Lions manager Gerald Davies made an uncharacteristically sharp comment on the business at the South Africa-bound tourists' farewell dinner in London on Wednesday night. An injury to Murray in this game will just about put the tin hat on it as far as Davies is concerned.
Northampton feel wholly justified in their stance, however – not least because the Lions chose to negotiate Murray's attendance at the team camp through the RFU, rather than through the club. By way of reinforcing the Midlanders' determination to win this title, the captain Bruce Reihana said yesterday: "This is absolutely massive for us. We have made big steps this season and we have developed a killer instinct. We have been preparing extremely hard as we know how important this is for everyone involved."Reuse content