Just a few days out from his side's first Rugby World Cup 2019 fixture against New Zealand, Springboks assistant coach Matt Proudfoot faced questions over whether South African rugby is in the midst of a doping crisis.

Last month, it was announced that South Africa wing Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive for multiple anabolic steroids and metabolites in a sample taken on July 2. World Rugby's reigning Breakthrough Player of the Year, who scored six tries in 13 Test appearances in 2018, has pleaded his innocence.

However, the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport (SAIDS) revealed that a B-sample confirmed the presence of three banned substances: metandienone, methyltestosterone and LGD-4033. Formally charged, Dyantyi faces a ban of up to four years. Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus has said that he did not consider him for his 31-man Rugby World Cup squad due to a hamstring injury.

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News of Dyantyi's violation arrived 11 months after last October's revelations that six schoolboys tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs over 122 tests conducted during South Africa's famous Craven Week festival for under-18 players.

Pressed on whether rugby has deep-seated doping problems, both across the world and in South Africa specifically, Proudfoot initially outlined his desire to leave such questions to "administrators".

However, after stressing that "the image of South African rugby is portrayed by what you see on the field – we're a competitive nation," he explained the extent to which his squad have been tested this summer.

"We are tested weekly," Proudfoot added. "Probably six to eight players would be tested on an off-day basis every week prior to one of our camps that we've been on right the way through the Rugby Championship into our preparation. Every Wednesday or Thursday of our week, six to eight players would be tested."

Matt Proudfoot. Photo / Photosport
Matt Proudfoot. Photo / Photosport

Labelling testing as "the only viable mechanism to ensure clean sport", Proudfoot did acknowledge the narrative generated by Dyantyi's plight following the unsavoury Craven Week revelations.

"I understand why the narrative is there," said Proudfoot. "I'm just saying I don't have the data to be able to comment on that. If you asked me about scrums and lineouts and playing the game against New Zealand, I could comment on that. But I'm not someone who gathers data.

"We have a serious medical team in place in South African rugby that monitors that. Serious testing is done of this team and that's the team I'm responsible for."

Later on Tuesday in Tokyo, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper voiced his belief that "we don't have an institutional or systematic culture of doping" at the elite end of the sport.


The Australian then highlighted the global governing body's commitment to monitoring rugby union's laws to enhance player welfare.

"First of all, we invest vast sums of money in a very meticulous drug-testing programme in terms of testing via passports," he said. "We've been testing the players at this World Cup for the last four years and haven't stopped, mainly out-of-competition, where you're more likely to catch offenders.

"Our belief is that we do not have a systematic or institutional doping problem at the elite level of rugby. We've seen some evidence in the community, reflecting community desires to be looking good and fit and all the rest of it – [it is] not necessarily a rugby thing.

"But at the elite level, we're not seeing that issue. Yes, we still believe rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes, though they're more fit shapes and sizes than back in the day.

"We have also generated some pretty innovative law changes around player welfare designed to open up some space in the game, to take some of the brute strength elements out of it to try and progress in those areas. We'll see how those trials go.

"Short answer, in the elite game there are exceptional findings occasionally but no systemic problem. We're very confident in our drug-testing programme."

Ross Tucker is one of the sports scientists involved in World Rugby's continuing research into and reform on high-tackles and shoulder-charges in a bid to lower concussive incidents.

Interestingly, he took to Twitter on Tuesday to address the question of "does South African sport have a doping problem?"

Over a detailed answer, Cape Town-based Tucker suggested that there was a societal doping issue in South Africa and that anti-doping protocols in team sports generally can be "hampered by a lack of resources".

Earlier this week, World Rugby's anti-doping manager Mike Earl, said that the average fail rate of drugs tests since Rugby World Cup 2015 was 0.4 per cent.