A CONVICTED drug cheat should be given a life ban from sport, in the opinion of Ronan O'Gara.
Provision has to be made for athletes who accidentally imbibe a forbidden substance as in a cough bottle mixture, O'Gara believes, but no mercy should be shown to a proven cheat.
Ireland's record points-scorer confirmed that he has never seen evidence of performance-enhancing drug-taking in rugby, and that it is not part of rugby culture. He insisted, however, it should be stamped out decisively wherever it is found.
"It should be a lifetime ban, nothing less," stated O'Gara. "If some poor fella gets nailed over a cough bottle then you have to have sympathy for him and exceptions have to be made but that's as far as it should go.
"But if there's a genuine cheat caught out then he shouldn't be given a second chance. It's impossible not to look at that fella as anything more than a cheat. And I really don't think two-year bans for those caught and found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs is enough."
O'Gara is a keen horse-racing enthusiast and the news of Frankie Dettori's positive test for a banned substance has brought the use of such substances back into focus, hot on the heels of the Lance Armstrong debacle.
O'Gara also has a very personal reason for wanting rugby to stay clean. "If you throw performance-enhancing substances on top of the physical development the various Academies are focusing in on, what chance is there for a player my size?" he joked.
"I do worry that sometimes maybe the Academies are so focused on developing the physical aspect of the game that the development of the skill set might be suffering. I believe that developing a player's skill set is every bit as important. The game is different now and is constantly evolving with players becoming bigger and bigger. But there will, I believe and hope, always be a place for the intelligent player in the game because it needs it."
This weekend O'Gara will renew rivalries – albeit from the bench – with Argentina. The 35-year old's relationship with the Pumas has always been one of mutual animosity, going back to his celebratory heel-click after his injury-time drop goal won Ireland the 2004 Test meeting.
"When I did the heel-click in the air in front of (Rodrigo) Roncero and (Mario) Ledesma? Yeah, they got me back for that over the years, especially in club games. Ah, that was only a small part of it. You have two hugely proud nations going head to head in games with so much at stake.
"When you have a situation like that the games are always going to be played with an edge to them. And you had guys on both teams who didn't like each other very much, which is human nature too. But off the field it was different. That's the beauty of rugby, the ability to leave what happens on the field there and not carry it over."