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Hopley hits back at Wihongi ban

Players' chief Damian Hopley has launched a fierce attack on the decision to hit Sale Sharks prop Karena Wihongi with a four-month ban.

And former England international Hopley, chief executive of the Rugby Players' Association, intends pursuing the matter with what he describes as "relevant national and international bodies".

Hopley said: "The RPA fully endorses the fight against doping in all forms of sport and actively promotes strong anti-doping messages to all of our members. But we are extremely concerned at the inconsistency concerning the recent punishments handed out to players who have unknowingly taken these contaminated substances containing the stimulant methylhexaneamine."

New Zealand-born Wihongi, 31, was suspended following a positive test for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine. He appeared before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel earlier this month, having been provisionally suspended by the RFU from playing and training on January 28.

This came after a positive test following an Aviva Premiership game between Sale and Newcastle at Kingston Park three weeks earlier.

Both Wihongi and Sale made representations to the RFU panel that the stimulant entered his system without his knowledge or what the Sharks described in a statement as "without any pre-meditated plan to gain an advantage".

And the punishment, which means Wihongi cannot play again until May 27, has led to Hopley hitting out.

He added: "The fact that Karena was given the supplement at half-time in a game with the understanding that the substances were certified as clean, seems to have had no impact whatsoever in the sentence that was subsequently passed.

"While we fully accept that all athletes are ultimately responsible for whatever supplements they ingest, the RPA will be taking up this matter with the relevant national and international authorities as we believe this inconsistency and the lack of empathy shown in this case is wholly unacceptable in professional sport."

Wihongi, who is qualified to play for France, joined Sale last year following stints with French clubs Oyonnax and Bourgoin.

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