The spectre of doping looms large over the Rugby World Cup in the wake of South African star and World Rugby breakthrough player of the year for 2018 Aphiwe Dyantyi’s positive test on the eve of the tournament.
After Springbok coach Matt Proudfoot was compelled to defend his country’s reputation at the team’s press conference in Tokyo this morning, the issue came up at World Rugby’s tournament launch today.
The game’s governing body does not believe that there is a systematic doping programme at work in the professional game, with chief executive Brett Gosper issuing a defence of the testing programme.
Dyantyi is awaiting word of a potential four-year suspension after both his A and B urine samples tested positive for multiple anabolic steroids and metabolites last month.
Gosper was asked if he was confident in the systems in place and if rugby remained a sport for all shapes and sizes in the context of the now famous photograph of the topless, flexing South African squad that went viral last week.
"First of all, we invest vast sums of money in a very meticulous drug-testing programme in terms of testing via passports. We've been testing the players at this World Cup for the last four years and haven't stopped, mainly out-of-competiton, where you're more likely to catch offenders,” he said.
"Our belief is that we do not have a systematic or institutional doping problem at the elite level of rugby. We've seen some evidence in the community, reflecting community desires to be looking good and fit and all the rest of it - not necessarily a rugby thing.
"But at the elite level, we're not seeing that issue. Yes, we still believe rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes, though they're more fit shapes and sizes than back in the day.
"We have also generated some pretty innovative law changes around player welfare designed to open up some space in the game, to take some of the brute strength elements out of it to try and progress in those areas. We'll see how those trials go.
"Short answer, in the elite game there are exceptional findings occasionally but no systemic problem. We're very confident in our drug-testing programme."
Dyanty’s positive test has thrown the focus on to the Springboks ahead of their tournament opener against New Zealand on Saturday.
Unlike many leading nations including Ireland where schoolboy rugby players are not tested for banned substances, South Africa has an extensive schools doping programme in place and, as a result, their number of positive tests is high.
That, combined with a number of high profile suspensions including Johann Ackermann, Gerbrandt Grobler, Chilliboy Rapallele, Cobus Visagie, Johann Goosen and Ashley Johnson, has helped create the perception of a doping problem in the Rainbow Nation.
Indeed, when the controversy surrounding Grobler during his time at Munster was at its highest, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne described South Africa as “a very different rugby environment” from Ireland.
Proudfoot this morning offered a defence of his squad.
“I understand why the narrative is there, I'm just saying I don't have the data to be able to comment on that,” he said.
“If you ask me about scrums and lineouts and the game against New Zealand I could comment on that, but I'm not someone who gathers data, we have a serious medical team in place in SA rugby that monitors that.
“Serious testing is done of this team, and that's the team I'm responsible for.”