A new book claims that the arrival of many South African players in the Top 14 has brought with it some 'questionable behaviour' regarding doping, writes GAVIN MORTIMER for SARugbymag.co.za.
It’s called Rugby à Charges: L’Enquête Choc (Rugby Accused: The Shock Investigation), and when it was published on Thursday it certainly caused a few tremors in France.
Written by Pierre Ballester, the co-author of LA Confidentiel, the explosive account of Lance Armstrong’s practices, the book claims to lift the lid on decades of serial doping within French rugby.
Reaction was swift, and within a few hours of the book’s publication, Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal had rubbished the allegations concerning his club (notably against international scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous-Borde and osteopath Jean-Pierre Darnaud).
Yet among the many allegations involving French rugby, there are several charges levelled at South African rugby.
One chapter in the book is entitled: 'South Africa, outside the norm in hormones'. Here the author says the arrival of many South African players in the Top 14 – five in the 2001-02 season and 49 in 2013-14 season – has brought with it some 'questionable behaviour' regarding doping, a charge that has topical resonance bearing in mind the recent news that Chiliboy Ralepelle has returned to South Africa after his Toulouse contract was terminated. He tested positive for the steroid drostanolone last year and is awaiting a hearing that could see him receive a long ban.
Bernard Dusfour, president of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby's medical commission, is quoted as saying: 'Yes, it’s true, South Africa has been bad for us. They arrived with their “things” in France, and from 2003 there was a problem. We’ve dealt with it, not definitively. But when they are tested three times a year over here, it’s not the same story.'
In the same chapter Dusfour’s counterpart at the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR), Jean-Claude Peyrin, was asked about allegations made in the book by an anonymous source that a few years ago a meeting was held in which several FFR figures – including then president Bernard Lapasset – discussed the incidence of anabolic steroids in the French game. It was alleged that there had been several cases of 'hormonal disorders among players coming from South Africa and Eastern Europe'. As a result letters were 'sent to the federations concerned'. Peyrin denied such an event but he did say of South Africans in France: 'According to the information we had, they were taking illegal products during their weight training.'
Another of those interviewed for the book was Dr Jacques Mombet, now 84, who in 1975 and 1995 was the doctor of the French national team.
When the Springboks played France in Paris in November 1997, Mombet was no longer the team doctor but he was manager of the FFR’s medical committee.
'In the hours before the match, doping controls had been mentioned and word of this reached the ears of the South African staff,' he explains. 'About one hour before kick-off, their doctor approached me in the corridor of the dressing room. He then pulled out a stack of papers from his briefcase. It was prescription notes. About 10 of them.'
Mombet said he was surprised by the number of prescriptions as most were to treat the after-effects of niggling knee or ankle injuries. But he alleges 'it was above all to justify the taking of corticosteroids and Ventoline [the commercial name for the stimulant “salbutamol”, used to treat asthma sufferers but which can boost athletes’ respiratory function because it helps to keep the airways open, making it easier to breathe].'
Mombet doesn’t elaborate on what else he and the Springbok doctor discussed in the corridor but no doping control was conducted at the end of a Test match the tourists won 52-10.
– Mortimer is a Paris-based rugby writer and a regular contributor to SA Rugby magazine. Follow him on Twitter @gavinmortimer7
Photo: Remy Gabalda/AFP Photo