IRFU knew of Grobler’s doping past when approving Munster deal

Union chief says having a policy on signing such players should be considered

The IRFU chief executive, Philip Browne, has admitted that the union approved Munster's signing of Gerbrandt Grobler last July in the full knowledge that the player had previously been banned for two years after testing positive for taking an anabolic steroid, and that in the absence of any hard and fast policy on signing players with such a past, the union will have to consider this in the future.

Explaining the process by which a player from overseas is signed by one of the provinces, Browne said: “How it works is if a province wishes to bring in a foreign player, they have to produce a CV, a playing record, all of that, and it gets considered by the IRFU high performance department, with the province, and then they make a decision. It’s a joint decision.”

Browne also confirmed that Grobler's previous suspension did not prevent Munster and the IRFU from signing the South African lock.

“The view was taken that, firstly, there was a player needed,” said Browne, who added: “If you were to ask me ‘Do we have a specific policy, for that specific set of circumstances?’ the answer is ‘No, we don’t’. So, the reality is ‘Do we need to consider having a policy for that particular set of circumstances?’ The answer is ‘We need to consider that’.


"There was a view taken that there was a crying need for a secondrow in Munster. Tadhg Beirne was not available until this year. Rassie [Erasmus] obviously, with his knowledge of South African players, identified this player, and a decision was taken to bring him in, on the basis he'd been playing for a year in Racing, that he was medically cleared, he'd done his time, and the view was here's a young fella, who made a rash decision, regrets it and at the end of the day he could make a contribution to Munster for a year."

Anti-doping protocols

“Within an environment that is very different to any other, at the end of the day there are stringent anti-doping protocols and systems in place [in Ireland], which we are proud of. If you’re asking me would we consider putting a policy in place to deal with that particular set of circumstances, I think we’ll consider it, because it’s obviously an issue, and to be fair, ‘from a values point of view, is it the right thing?’. And we need to have that discussion, and we will have it.”

Many former Irish international players have been among those expressing their discomfort and disapproval of Grobler’s signing, and Browne admitted he could understand the widespread unease about the issue.

“Of course I can, of course I can. That’s why I think when the dust is settled – he’s here for a year – we need to consider how we deal with that situation in the future.”

The furore comes in the immediate aftermath of Munster also signing two South African players straight out of school and bringing them into their academy, namely Keynon Knox and Matt Moore. That Munster have had to resort to bringing in South African teenagers straight out of school does not reflect well on the production line in the province. Browne said it was not a case of copying others such as France and England, who have set up academies and feeder clubs in the Pacific Islands and South Africa.

“I don’t think that’s the case at all. The Munster Academy obviously have an issue in terms of identifying sufficient players to come through to fill certain positions as they look at their succession planning, so that’s probably the reason.”

Browne was ostensibly speaking at the Aviva Stadium on foot of the announcement confirming the extension of the naming rights of Lansdowne Road until 2015.

“The deal we did with Aviva was a 10-year deal with an option for a further five years so what Aviva has done is exercise their option. In fact, the negotiations were really done nine or ten years ago. It’s a great outcome for us both, for the IRFU, the Aviva Stadium and the FAI in that it’s a continuation of what has been a very successful partnership.


“I suppose effectively they are pleased with the investment they made in the stadium and this is just a reflection of how the investment has worked for them in that they are prepared to move it on for a further five years.”

That Aviva were happy to take up their option of a five-year extension until 2023 (at which point they have another five-year option) demonstrates how the name of the stadium has gained so much traction virtually from the off, especially in what Browne described as a tricky market.

“There is a lot of change in the market. You have Brexit going on and companies are holding back on making big investments. Television markets are flat. They’re not quite flat-lining but they’re flat so that’s tricky. Sponsorship markets are tricky at the moment. That’s why you would see in the last 18 months a lot of deals have been rolled over early.

"We'd hope to find out what the outcome of Brexit might actually be so a lot of our revenue contracts are contracted beyond 2020 at this stage so we're in reasonable shape, we're not actually having to go to market. For the competitions, some of the tournaments, they're probably struggling a little bit in terms of finding sponsors. EPCR have obviously had their difficulties, the Six Nations at times had some difficulties. If the property is good property and the product is good, I think the values can be reached and achieved."

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times