Rugby: Leaupepe case from a bygone era

The likelihood of a George Leaupepe in modern rugby is highly unlikely, according to Auckland Rugby high performance manager Ant Strachan.

Leaupepe said he and many others of the 1990s era were let down by New Zealand Rugby as the game transitioned to professionalism.

The former Counties Manukau midfielder was talking in the wake of being fined after police found a hydroponic cannabis set-up in his Auckland bedroom. Leaupepe pleaded guilty to a charge of cultivating the class-C drug and, while he admitted fault, said the cannabis was purely for personal medicinal use after being left with injuries from his years on the field.

"It's a very sad tale," Strachan told Radio Sport. "He's got an injury from a prolonged career and come up with his own solution to remedy that, albeit illegally, but the other things that have happened in his life are very sad. But I don't think we will have too many more of these in the future.

"In a perfect world, we would have had that stuff (welfare and education) in place well in advance of professionalism but it wasn't. It came in a little later and that have done a magnificent job over the last 15 years or so.

"Those players coming through the transition period, some of them had jobs or part-time jobs and just stopped working and thought rugby was going to take them to the promised land. One of the things that wasn't really considered at the time was, 'hang on a minute, what happens if I last only one or two years, what do I have to fall back on?' There wasn't a lot of consideration given to that. A lot of players coming through that transition played a lot of football, and it was hard football compared to the amateur days, and they weren't well equipped to deal with it."

Strachan said things are different these days. Auckland Rugby work closely with the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, in the same way academies around the country do, and have clear guidelines about how promising players are turned into professional players.

"It's a very competitive market," Strachan said. "We go to the families first. We like to visit them in their own homes and get a bit of a feel for where they are and who is around them - the parental support and wider family and the community they are in - and then we really work through the process. It's almost a tick box. We say to them, 'this is where your son is and this is where your son is ranked in terms of his technique and tactical ability, what is he doing in the classroom, what are his thoughts away from rugby?' We just make sure we have a very clear picture of where the athlete is.

"We say to the parents that it's compulsory [for their sons] to study or work fulltime for the first two years with us. Rugby is important, and their boy might go to the promised land and earn a lot of money later on but, for us, training is outside the work hour of 9-5 and they must be working or studying. So you try to instil those critical things that he is going to need later in life when rugby is finished for him.

"While it sounds warm and fluffy, it's absolutely critical these young men have something else other than football."

- NZ Herald

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