Rugby can rise above scandals insist RFU

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The Independent Online

Rugby remains in robust health despite the succession of scandals that have tarnished the sports' reputation, according to the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett.

Bloodgate, the drug-related suspensions of five Bath players and a high-profile spate of eye-gougings have caused acute embarrassment to the game.

Blackett, who has been leading the RFU's fight against misconduct, admits the bad publicity has proved damaging and has raised issues that demand urgent attention.

But he cites impressive attendance figures for the opening weekend of Guinness Premiership fixtures and an epic Lions series as evidence of a sport that is flourishing.

"It certainly hasn't been a good summer and it would clearly be nonsense to say there has been no damage," he said.

"There were big crowds at Twickenham on Saturday to watch the London double header - 67,000 - and increased numbers at Premiership games.

"We've just had the best Lions tour that was full of fantastic rugby, so there are great things going on.

"Clearly people are concerned and the important thing is to establish what's going on, draw a line under it and move forward saying it won't happen again.

"If you went back 20 years you wouldn't have had this level of interest in the amateur game.

"It's a positive thing that rugby has such a high profile now."

Blackett is unsurprised by the series of incidents that have occurred, dating back to last summer's England tour to New Zealand when four players were accused of inappropriate behaviour.

And he insists rugby's authorities should be praised for the way they are attempting to clean up the sport.

"Human nature is human nature. Whatever we do there will always be someone who will step over the line," he said.

"We now have a process that is fast and transparent. We pick up most people who commit foul play one way or another and apply proportionate penalties.

"In terms of the much wider issue of misconduct we have a bunch of professional players who are between the age of 18 and 30.

"If you compare that group to a group of young men anywhere else, you're bound to have these instances every now and again.

"We shouldn't be surprised that these things happen. It's important that we deal with it properly and help the players as well, particularly in the issue of cocaine abuse.

"Young men have these temptations so we not only need to hit them with a big stick, but must also help them. We're doing a lot of good work there.

"I'm not particularly surprised or dismayed at what has happened, but I'm disappointed by some of what we've seen.

"It's a pity it's all happened over one year and I hope the instances are pretty rare.

"Clearly we'll still have instances like this, but no more than any other area in society."