Drug testing of secondary school rugby players will continue at the Top 4 first XV rugby finals series at Massey University in Palmerston North next weekend.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand is set to collect random urine samples from the boys and girls competitions, but not the co-ed championship.

The tests are for a restricted number of substances. The aim is to catch those trying to short-cut their way to elite level using, for example, anabolic steroids rather than someone taking medicine to help with asthma.

Last year the samples were analysed by the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Sydney. None tested positive.

Advertisement

However, two school-aged athletes have since been banned for failed drug tests elsewhere in the DFSNZ programme.

One, where the name and sport were withheld for privacy reasons, was a 16-year-old playing for a regional senior team in a "New Zealand championship tournament" held in February 2018. He had one serving of "Kick Pre-Workout" and was suspended for four months after testing positive for the "unintentional use" of the prohibited substance dimethylpentylamine.

The other, a sportsman with aspirations to play at first XV level as a 17-year-old in 2014 and 2015, tested positive for using the banned drug clenbuterol. He was issued with a four-year ban in May, backdated to August 2017.

The issue originally emerged last year due to concerns about secondary school rugby players' use of supplements, and whether banned substances were being used in pursuit of the professional ranks.

A 2013 survey, featuring almost 150 first XV players, saw 70 per cent admit they took four or more supplements, with 90 per cent of them concerned about the products' safety.

Parental consent to testing is not required because the tournament is held under the auspices of New Zealand Rugby, who are signatories to the WADA code.

School age athletes at Olympic or Paralympic level have long been tested by DFSNZ in other sporting codes.

Last year DFSNZ argued a lack of access to educating students forced them to take tougher measures; the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council fell into line because the event was outside their remit; and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association argued drug-testing was unnecessary and expressed disappointment schools had not embraced the education component more willingly.

Some schools were frustrated because of a perception the process was sprung on them with a lack of consultation.

A year on, the stakeholders appear more aligned, albeit with DFSNZ and the NZRPA disagreeing on the value of the testing procedures.

"We're just disappointed they're testing in an educational environment," NZRPA boss Rob Nichol said.

"We should be embracing the opportunity to educate kids without a testing programme being waved over our heads as a motivator.

"We don't have an issue with the code being applied at international and national level, but we don't think it's appropriate at community and recreational level across the mainstream population and minors."

Nichol said DFSNZ had been "really receptive" to an ongoing conversation about the issue.

"This is their second year doing it, but they've now got more traction around education and schools have been more welcoming.

"Hopefully a level of confidence comes out of that so they can re-assess whether they want to continue [the drug-testing] next year.

"We'd say to schools 'please embrace the opportunity to get educated on this' because the more you do, the more confident DFSNZ will be that the message is getting through and they will be less motivated to test."

DFSNZ chief executive Nick Paterson said the testing is a minor part of what they do.

"Most of our resources, time and energy goes into talking to students. Last year we spoke to 4000 kids at 80 schools around New Zealand at a bit wider level than 'top 4' rugby. This year we'll double that number.

"Our process around the tournament has been to educate them for a couple of months beforehand.

"We went to schools and parents this year with a letter saying 'this is what we're trying to achieve and this is what it means'."

Paterson said their reach will extend to the girls tournament this year, but they are yet to decide whether they will continue in 2019.

"We've had some useful discussions with secondary schools and the players' association after last year's tournament.

"Education is the main driver and that will continue no matter what the testing looks like."

NZSSSC executive director Garry Carnachan said the data supporting the original testing hadn't changed, so they supported the move.

"We understand they have to investigate where they consider necessary, so we're comfortable with them [DFSNZ] taking the lead, and we'll support them in the education space.

"We've trained some of our regional sports directors to deliver those [education programmes] to get extra penetration into the schools.

"We're happy the education processes are pretty sound, available and good quality."