Aviva Premiership players keen to show rugby is a 'clean sport' - Richard Bryan
Aviva Premiership players have raised concerns the professional game in England is being unfairly tainted by the extent of steroid abuse uncovered in amateur rugby.
Recent UK Anti-Doping figures show that players from Wales of both codes constitute 33 per cent of all sportsmen and women serving drugs bans with 10 union players currently suspended. The majority are found to have traces of anabolic steroids in their systems.
It is a problem that has also afflicted the English game and while all positive tests have been confined to lower levels, they have heightened suspicions that use of performance-enhancing drugs extends into the professional ranks.
The Rugby Players' Association (RPA), who have agreed a new five-year funding deal with the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby worth a minimum £7million, reports disquiet among members keen to promote a "clean sport".
The players' union also subscribes to the view that the worrying rise in steroid abuse is a societal problem.
"We've certainly had the feedback from the last players' board that there is quite a lot of frustration among members," the RPA's rugby director Richard Bryan said.
"When stories are published about anti-doping, everyone seems to get tarnished by it.
"Professional players - certainly our members - are very keen to show that it is a clean sport and that they look after themselves with good nutrition and hard work.
"They are really frustrated at the perception of doping in the game. Our members feel very strongly that it's unfair on them and that at the top level it's a clean sport.
"If you look at where the issues tend to be, you are looking at the lower levels of the game.
"And it's not necessarily the game as much as a social problem - the gym culture and steroid abuse in general. That's a much broader issue than just rugby.
"From a rugby perspective you look at it and the majority of those positive tests are actually at the lower tiers of the game, whether that is some guys trying to make the step up into the semi-professional ranks. So that's a concern."
The RPA's new £7million deal with Premiership Rugby and the RFU, announced on Thursday, will fund welfare, personal development and education programmes that support its 650 current and over 350 former members.