Rugby: 'I'm angry and disappointed' - Former All Black Joe Rokocoko

Former All Blacks and Racing 92 teammates Joe Rokocoko and Dan Carter. Photo / INPHO/Billy Stickland
Former All Blacks and Racing 92 teammates Joe Rokocoko and Dan Carter. Photo / INPHO/Billy Stickland

When the storm broke, Joe Rokocoko had to hurriedly call home, to reassure his tearful mother. Far away in Auckland, Wana was worried, after hearing that her son was embroiled in an alleged doping controversy.

There were other frantic calls and texts a fortnight ago, when it emerged that traces of corticosteroids had been detected in samples provided by three Racing 92 players; Rokocoko, Dan Carter and Juan Imhoff following the French Top 14 final last June.

Earlier this week, the trio were cleared of any wrong-doing, having proved that they had adhered to regulations with the use of out-of-competition cortisone injections to aid recovery from injuries.

The 33-year former All Blacks wing is concerned about the reputational damage caused by the episode, despite being cleared. But first of all, he was concerned about the impact on his family, on the other side of the world.

"It was tough when it came out," Rokocoko told the Daily Mail after training at Racing's plush base in the Paris suburb of Plessis-Robinson. "I woke up to see missed calls and text messages, from my mum in New Zealand and my brother, who is working in Australia. My mates were all trying to find out how I was too.

"I rang up my old lady and she was tearful, because all she had heard was the news on the radio. Back in New Zealand, something like that is massive, so she wanted to hear it from me. She was asking if everything was alright. She really went through an emotional ride when the news came out. She hadn't had the full story and it's not good when the title of it just says 'steroids'.

"People don't know much about it so they just have a picture in their minds. Say, a local guy in Fiji might pick that up and just see 'drugs', 'steroids'. That's all they will know because they might not read about all the details. To have your name next to the word 'steroids' just kind of kills you really."

At least Rokocoko had better news for his mother this week. "She's happy now," he said.

For the player himself - who scored 46 tries in 68 tests for the All Blacks between 2003 and 2010 - the ordeal has been infuriating and has left a stain, despite the not-guilty verdict passed down by the French federation.

"I'm angry and disappointed with the whole process," he said. "Having my name put out there like that... I would fully deserve it if I was guilty of doping and what I did was wrong. If I had taken something illegal then I would deserve to have my name out there for it, because we don't need that in the sport. But to be named like that for doing something you are allowed to do - that is disappointing.

"It does create damage because I am 33 years old and they are saying, 'this [doping] is the thing that keeps these guys going'. You spend so long working so hard and building up your reputation then... this. But you can't beat the system. You would be stupid to be doing something wrong.

"In my case, it was all because of inflammation in my ankle. I had the injection in the week before the semi [against Clermont Auvergne]. I hadn't recovered from the Toulouse game the week before. The swelling didn't go down so I had the injection to get the inflammation down, so I could recover and run again. By the end of that week, I was running again. That injection wasn't going to make me run faster or jump higher. It was just for easing the pain."

Rokocoko is disappointed that the French anti-doping agency knew that a legitimate injection - his only one since joining Racing - could lead to a 'false negative', but it still sparked a drawn-out saga. And he is angry that a suspected leak from within the agency created the media storm that engulfed himself, Carter and Imhoff. "We didn't expect it to blow up like it did," he said.

Despite the trouble he has had to endure, Rokocoko supports the concerted drive to keep rugby clean from performance-enhancing drug use, with rigorous testing. He is confident that the sport does not have a problem of that nature.

"I don't think it is something that is in rugby, to be honest," he said. "As players, we don't start saying, 'Oh, that guy is too quick, he must be on something'. I think people can believe that rugby is clean, because we get tested so often.

"You can't hide from it. There are random tests all the time. Guys come to your home at six o clock in the morning and knock on the door. I've had that in New Zealand. We had a guy who came in to training here yesterday and tested 13 of us.

"I got tested again after my last game at home, which was two weeks ago. It was a 'random' test and they tested 11 and 14 - me and Imhoff. Very random! You just can't hide. You expect everyone in rugby to be clean. Everyone has high values in this sport and if you don't, you will get caught out."

Now is the time for drawing a line and moving on, which Rokocoko will do on Sunday night (NZT), by playing his part in another Champions Cup encounter with Leicester - who Racing beat in a semifinal last season. Their exonerated trio are all set to feature.

Carter was training on Wednesday, after an injury absence, and is expected to make his comeback. Rokocoko and Imhoff are poised to carry on wreaking havoc out wide, having been liberated from suspicion.

Back in Auckland, Wana can relax, knowing her son is just fine. The storm has passed, but it has left its mark.

-Daily Mail

- Daily Mail

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