Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Everybody makes mistakes' - van Graan willing to forgive Munster second row's doping past

Munster’s Gerbrandt Grobler admited taking drostanolone, an anabolicandrogenic steroid, in 2014. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster’s Gerbrandt Grobler admited taking drostanolone, an anabolicandrogenic steroid, in 2014. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Munster coach Johann van Graan believes second-row Gerbrandt Grobler deserves a second chance in rugby after serving a two-year doping ban.

The South African could make his debut for the province against his former club Racing 92 on Sunday having missed the season so far due to injury.

The issue of dopers returning to competition has been a controversial one in other sports, but little has been made of the 25-year-old being handed a contract with one of the leading Irish provinces.

Grobler tested positive for drostanolone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid, in 2014 and admitted his guilt at a subsequent hearing when he was handed his lengthy suspension.

Standing at 6ft 7ins and weighing in at almost 19 stone, Grobler is a prototype modern tighthead lock and even before his ban was up, he was handed a fresh start with Racing 92.

He reportedly signed a three-year deal in 2016 and began playing in October last year, featuring against Munster in the corresponding fixture when Rassie Erasmus's men won 32-7 in Paris.

However, he left the French side at the end of his first season and with Erasmus needing a lock to fill the gap between Racing-bound Donnacha Ryan and incoming Scarlets lock Tadhg Beirne, he turned to Grobler.

The lock linked up with his new team in pre-season, but suffered a serious ankle injury in the warm-up game against Worcester Warriors before the campaign got under way.

Now, having undergone surgery and made a full recovery, he can make his debut this weekend and Van Graan, who coached Grobler when he was a schoolboy, has no issue with his past.

"I believe life is very simple. All of us sitting here, everybody in life makes mistakes. I believe life is 10pc what happens and 90 per cent how you react to it," he said.

"He served his ban. He's worked really hard to get back to fitness and then in the warm-up game, he had a big injury and he had to fight his way back.

"Obviously, he wants to achieve a lot of things in his life. He's such a talented rugby player so for him personally (there is) a lot to prove.

"The ban in my view is a long time in the past. Like I said, every person on this planet makes mistakes, it's how we come back from them.

"He's fought through them really well, I thought, and he's a quality individual so we wish him well in his journey back.

"He is available. Obviously hasn't played for a very long time so we will make a decision on him later in the week. Luckily we have got other competition. But he is a huge part of our squad going forward. He has got an unbelievable amount of talent.

"I actually coached him a year when he was in school. He had a really good Top 14 last year with Racing 92. Once we feel he is ready for a match we will pick him."

In May, Grobler spoke to 'SA Rugby' magazine about his ban.

"I was 21 at the time, young and stupid, and struggling with serious ankle and shoulder injuries," he said. "They weren't getting any better, and I knew I needed to start playing again or I could lose my contract. I had my back against the wall and had reached a point where I thought, 'OK, I've done all I can, so what else can I do?'"

The ban, he said, made him "a better person".

"It made me realise what a small world professional rugby players live in. It's a bubble, and it's only when you step outside the bubble that you see how small it is," he concluded.

Grobler may not play, but given his inside knowledge of the Racing set-piece, he'll surely have a part to play.

Munster say they've no plans to alter their calling system despite Ryan's anticipated presence in the opposition lineout and Van Graan hopes Grobler can help cancel the Tipperary man out.

"That's the great thing about rugby, Donnacha is on their side and Gerbrandt is on our side, having been with Racing before. It's a bit of tit for tat. Teams are very smart and teams will adapt," he said.

"I've never worked with Donnacha but I think he's a fantastic rugby player, I've coached against him. Obviously, he will do what's best for Racing at this stage. They are possibly one of the best set-piece teams in Europe. You've just got to look at their scrum, look at their lineout.

"I've watched them now for quite a while and I believe that after New Zealand they are possibly the best at contesting sides in the world. They put your lineout under severe pressure, so we'll have to be at our best to get some quality ball."

Billy Holland and Chris Cloete are undergoing the concussion protocols and could be fit.

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