"I feel like I’ve been living in bubble. I never even would have considered it. If you take a 1,000 rugby players and a 1,000 athletes, there has got to be some fall over, that there is going to be a portion of people that will try it. From a logic point of view it has got to be in the game."
So begins Eoin Reddan's dissection of doping in rugby, a week after three Racing Metro players - including one Dan Carter - became embroiled in a TUE controversy.
Reddan's former teammate Ronan O'Gara sprang to the defence of his Racing colleagues, declaring that it was 'a sad state of affairs' when three players were having their characters incessantly questioned for taking anti-inflammatory injections into their joints while recovering from injury. He also maintained that steroid abuse is likely a massive problem in rugby.
Many agreed with him; even Paul Kimmage, who would later in the week label rugby players 'cowards' for their unwillingness to speak out on the issue, reserved praise for the former Ireland out-half.
...and @RonanOGara10 pic.twitter.com/Dw0jvRTvSW
— Paul Kimmage (@PaulKimmage) October 10, 2016
Kimmage's issue lies with Irish players and those from other countries who refuse to address the issue. After a long discussion in Dublin yesterday, it's likely not something he or anybody else could accuse of former Ireland scrum-half Eoin Reddan.
Speakingly candidly and at length about the issue, Reddan began by acknowledging that statistics suggest doping is in all likelihood an issue within rugby, as much as he doesn't wish it to be true:
I can honestly say if it was in Ireland, I’d be shocked. I’d be shocked because I’d know the people involved. [But] if you look from the stats point of view, you shouldn’t be shocked.
You can't have a system that just competes with the people that try it recreationally; your system has got to be lined up for people that would literally chop of their arm to compete for England or Wales, because it they chop off their right arm to do that, they’re going to look into how to beat the system.
Guys who want to win gold medals and cheat - I do believe there is the same level of ambition in rugby in terms of how badly people want things - you need to want to catch somebody as bad as they want to do it.
You shouldn’t be testing Tour de France cyclists more rigidly than Irish rugby players. You should be applying the same to both. The motivations in those minds, the ambition is as high. You have to understand that that ambition will push through.
Asked if an amateur player at AIL level would be more likely to dope than an elite-level player, in order to break into his provincial side for example, Reddan's response was frank:
I think you might catch a guy in the AIL a lot quicker than you will catch a guy in the elite. The reason I’m applying that is because cyclists who are out cycling at the weekend will be caught before Lance Armstrong, because Lance Armstrong has more money. He is probably more ambitious. He probably has a bigger goal in sight.
It’s easier to catch guys in the lower end. They are more likely to get caught first. I think we need to send a message: If you want to keep rugby clean for 20 years, you need to put in the type of standards you do in cycling.
You could literally start testing everyone in the AIL and probably catch a guy. Could you test World Rugby with your current form of testing and categorically state everyone you tested is clean? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s rigorous enough yet.
Brought back to the issue in Ireland, Reddan clarified an earlier remark where he suggested statistics would indicate that there is, at least, an element of doping embedded within Irish rugby, explaining that he didn't wish to read a one-line quote from himself in the headlines that would inevitably follow:
I don’t think there is any drug issue in Ireland. I can say that absolutely clearly. I would have said that when I was a player. My opinion is that there are sports in the world that have very rigorous drug testing. Those sports might have cultures of doping and that’s why those testing levels have been heightened. My point is let's get ahead of the game in rugby.
I’m not saying there is an issue in rugby. I’m say that statistically there probably is. There has to be. I think it would be a lot, lot lower than other sports. In my head it’s clean relative to other sports.
I think that it is 100% guaranteed to become an issue, unless you apply that standards that you can apply. Why don’t you apply the sames standards to rugby players, that you do to cycling? It’s just a common sense approach.
The former Leinster 9 also spoke from his own experience where, despite doping rarely being a topic of conversation, there was a collective expectation that each professional would remain clean. He described it as a 'culture', but claimed that this culture would no longer suffice in keeping the sport even relatively PED-free:
We’re ahead of the game in terms of being clean, because of the culture within the game, but you can’t rely on that culture to keep us there. You have got to improve doping standards. Don’t rely on the culture of it.
Not in my 15 years of playing, have I ever been even close to it. Not even seen anything or suspected anyone. I’m saying that’s not enough. It would be stupid to sit here and say; ‘There’s no doping in rugby’, and ignore what’s coming down the line. Whether it’s now, or next year or the year after that, it is coming. We need to get ahead of it now.
There’s too much ambition. You look at all the other sports. There was a time when they were all clean. Cycling was clean at one point. It’s not now. You know how hard it is to pull it back in. You can see what’s going on. It’s very hard.
As the 'doping in rugby' storm from last week continues to blow over, rugby ploughs on. But, for the first time in the sport's history, it does so while throwing the odd ginger glance over its shoulder. Perhaps, as Eoin Reddan demands, it should instead focus on the road the come.
Donncha O’Callaghan and Eoin Reddan were on hand to launch the Vodafone #TeamOfUs Shirt Swap in Dublin City Centre today. From Saturday, 15th October Vodafone customers can swap their old Irish rugby jerseys to get 50% off the brand new Ireland home jersey by simply dropping off their old jersey at any Vodafone store nationwide. Numbers are limited, so fans are encouraged to act fast to avoid disappointment.