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Allowing dopers to block progress of Irish stars is 'unacceptable', blasts Henry

By Jonathan Bradley

While a polite "no comment" was all that was expected when the issue of an impending Munster debut for past doper Gerbrandt Grobler was raised at yesterday's Ulster press briefing, Chris Henry refreshingly had no qualms about making his feelings known.

With Grobler - who was handed and served a two-year ban for taking the anabolic steroid drostanolone as a 20-year-old - becoming a hot-button topic this week now that he is fit to play for the southern province, Henry admitted to some unease.

"When you hear the stories, it's pretty shocking to think players were willing to do that," he said. "From my point of view, to achieve something without doing it in an honest way is very much against sport.

"Ultimately you want to win trophies, but if you know that you haven't done it fairly, then is it really worth it? That would be my opinion."

There is naturally a debate to be had about whether sport should mirror life and allow for second chances, especially for the errors of youth and after contrition. Rugby has more stringent drug bans than others.

In the NFL, for example, a first-time offence brings only a four-game ban, while in Major League Baseball, a sport tainted by steroids like virtually no other, a player has to fail two tests before the penalties reach the severity of even a season-long suspension.

While such issues are not seen as anywhere near as rampant in rugby, the Grobler case has brought them to the forefront of minds in Ireland, arguably for the first time.

Indeed, Ulster may just have a little sympathy for the very public scrutiny Munster have endured over the past week.

In 2007, they signed South African-born Italian lock Carlo del Fava, who, like Grobler, had previously spent two years out of the game thanks to being caught doping as a 20-year-old.

While long enough ago to be considered a different time, Del Fava represented Ulster for two seasons with little furore.

For Henry, though, the importance of the debate is tied to the message it sends to young, indigenous players.

"It is hindering home-grown players who have been doing it the right way. That would be my opinion," he said.

"You look at the guys who have made massive contributions, the Robbie Diacks, the Rob Herrings. That's fantastic that they have decided to come over here and contribute and do it the right way.

"But ultimately, if someone is going to take shortcuts and it is going to close the door for a home-grown player from a province, then that is unacceptable. If you asked most players from Ireland they would say the same thing."

Such comments from Henry are certainly interesting given the context of his own career arc.

There were times when the former Wallace High pupil considered leaving the game altogether to become an air traffic controller.

It's remarkable considering all he has gone on to do in the game - 24 Ireland caps, a Six Nations medal, a World Cup, 177 Ulster outings and counting - but at 24-years-old he was still waiting to make his debut.

At the time, fearing his rugby dream may go unfulfilled, Henry was in the exact same situation it seems could leave young players most at risk to temptation.

"It took me until I was 24 to be physically ready to play and within a year I was playing for Ireland," he said.

"That's what I would say to any player; you have got to be patient, do the training, eat right, but you really shouldn't be taking anything else to increase your chances because ultimately you are going to be sitting there and you don't want to have regrets.

"There is more to rugby than being big and lifting heavy weights, that would be my advice to any young player."

Whether it's the Grobler debate, the retirement of Henry's long-time team-mate Tommy Bowe or the Six Nations squad, there have been plenty of talking points in Irish Rugby this week when otherwise attention would have been squarely focused on massive Champions Cup dates for the provinces.

Ulster themselves are one win away from the last eight as they get set to face Wasps in Coventry on Sunday (3.15pm kick-off), and could even book a home quarter-final.

The province have had tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst back in training ahead of the clash, although centre Luke Marshall is likely to make his own injury comeback for the A side.

Wasps' James Haskell will miss the game after he was handed a four-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Harlequins' Jamie Roberts.

Belfast Telegraph

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