Most young English rugby players dream of playing at Twickenham. Very few get to do it, and there is only one about to do so having served a two-year ban for doping. Adam Dean will run out in the blue jersey of the Royal Navy in the annual match against the Army next Saturday, and 50,000 spectators at HQ will bear witness both to a dream fulfilled and a cautionary tale.
Dean originally intended to reach his goal in the white shirt of England but he does not bemoan his lot. "I see myself as representing Queen and country by playing for the Navy," he said, "so I am just as happy as if I was playing for England."
There have been tears along the way. Dean wept when the secretary of his club, Chester RFC, came to his home to deliver the results of his positive drugs test in March 2005. He cried with joy last month on the morning of his first match back after the ban, for the Combined Services' Under-23 team against a Vale of Glamorgan XV.
Dean was 18 and a hugely promising blindside flanker when he tested positive for 19-norandrosterone, a metabolite of the anabolic steroid nandrolone, and was banned from the sport he loved. All rugby contact was outlawed: from playing and training five days a week he was not allowed to do either, or even walk through the door of his club. From scoring a try on his England Under-18 debut against Scotland he became the first English representative player to be suspended for drug-taking, and the youngest anywhere. His story stands as a lesson, and partly on the strength of it the Rugby Football Union employed their first anti-doping officer, Gavin Dovey, last year.
Dean believed he needed to "bulk up" to get on in the game and, in line with an attitude to rugby that it is about "smashing whatever is in front of you", he did it frighteningly quickly with visits to a "hardcore" gym and a bewildering array of dietary supplements. He was eating less but consumed extra protein in a sachet or a drink with each of his three meals a day. "In terms of weight I went from 12st 8lb to 16st 2lb in a matter of five or six months," he recalls. "You feel healthy and you feel good, on top of your game." He also took a course of 60 tablets of the muscle-building product 19-Nor-250, although these were discounted as the source of his positive test after a urine sample he gave at an England Under-18 session on 12 February 2005.
"We were never able to put our finger on what the source was," says Dean. "We believed it was due to cross-contamination of one or more of the supplements I'd been taking." Essentially he offered no defence. The RFU's disciplinary chief, Judge Jeff Blackett - coincidentally, a former Navy commodore - argued for Dean to be banned for a year. The IRB insisted on the mandatory two. "I respected the IRB's decision but I didn't agree with the length of the ban," says Dean, who talks freely about his case and has appeared in an educational DVD for UK Sport, who administer anti-doping procedures in this country. "I wasn't earning a living from rugby. I'd got no motivation to cheat."
Rugby is relatively "clean" with only a few doping offences each year but Dovey is busy educating on the dangers of steroids and the possibility that nutritional supplements and medicines can contain banned substances. "The onus is entirely on the individual to assess the risk," says Dovey. "We try to put as much information in front of the players as possible - on our website, with literature and in our outreach programme. Research suggests coaches are more influential on young players than parents or teachers, and second only to friends."
Today, Dean is a 20-year-old midshipman stationed in Portsmouth, soon to begin training as a Navy pilot in the Firefly aircraft; whereas he once had in mind a rugby contract with Sale Sharks, his aim now is active service in the fixed-wing Harriers and JSF (Joint Strike Fighters).
Nevertheless, he is "counting down the days" to Saturday, when his proud parents, John and Denise, will be at Twickenham. Though the Navy team has yet to be named, he is hoping to start at No 6. After appearances already against Plymouth Albion, London Irish and the RAF, he is starting all over again.
"The whole thing - being around the lads in the changing room, getting the boots back on - is dead emotional. Someone said to me that if I succeed as a pilot, I'll have to cut back on the rugby. I felt quite sick about it but you can't turn up to handle a £50 million plane with a rugby injury. And at least this time it will be my choice, and mine alone, if I don't play."Reuse content