Welsh club lose 19 players to 18-month suspension

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A Welsh club official and 19 players were banned for 18 months last night after admitting charges arising from doping control tests.

A special disciplinary panel of the Welsh Rugby Union suspended the players from the Division Three (East) champions, Penygraig, after they refused to take a drug test following the Silver Ball Final against Pontypridd in May.

The club secretary, Peter Brown, was also suspended from holding office or being involved in the management or coaching of any WRU rugby club for three years after admitting wilfully obstructing or interfering with the carrying-out of doping control tests.

The suspensions have been welcomed by UK Sport as a warning to athletes that they cannot hide from drug-testing. Michele Verroken, UK Sport's head of anti-doping, said: "The level of refusal of testing, in this case, was unprecedented and we were very aware that this presented quite a challenge for the governing body. We are very pleased at the way the WRU dealt with this matter."

However, Penygraig have accused the Union of over-reacting to their test refusal. In a statement released after the hearing, the club said: "The players and Hon Secretary consider that having regard to the mitigation put forward, which the panel accepted was 'powerful', the penalties imposed are unduly harsh.

"An appeal against these penalties will be lodged within the time limit specified in the appropriate regulations."

The case against three other players was adjourned after two denied the charges, and another is considering his position. However, the case against the former Penygraig chairman, Neil Roper, was withdrawn.

No criminal charges have been brought so far, although the police said they would follow proceedings to determine "whether any other issues arise out of it."