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Paul Kimmage: Three Billboards Outside Thomond Park, Limerick

Gerbrandt Grobler's first appearance for Munster raises issues that must be addressed

Fans gather for a Munster game at Thomond Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Fans gather for a Munster game at Thomond Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

It's Oscar season, and of all the great movies coming down the tracks, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the one that most excites. It's a Martin McDonagh film, obviously, with Frances McDormand, naturally, and opens in the office of a small advertising firm where Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is negotiating the rental of three billboards.

Mildred Hayes: What's the law on what ya can and can't say on a billboard? I assume it's ya can't say nothing defamatory, and ya can't say "F***', 'Piss' or 'C***'.

Red Welby: Or . . . Anus.

Mildred Hayes: Well, I think I'll be alright then.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

Seven months have passed since the rape and murder of her daughter in Ebbing, Missouri but the killer has not been found. The police seem indifferent. Mildred has reached breaking point and is not going to take it anymore. She meets the fee and secures a line for each billboard:

 

'RAPED WHILE DYING'

'STILL NO ARRESTS?'

Gerbrandt Grobler in training for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Gerbrandt Grobler in training for Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

'HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?'

 

Finally, she has his attention.

Rage in the face of injustice has always stoked me. We've been dealing with it in athletics and cycling and swimming for years - the outrageous dishonesty, the complicit administrators; the fans who don't want to know - and it wears us down. But I'm with Mildred - you'll have to kill her to get her to lie down - and those billboards really appeal to me.

 

YOUR HEROES ARE CHEATING

AND STILL, YOU EMBRACE THEM

HOW COME, FOLKS?

 

And so it is with Irish rugby.

Remember the uproar three years ago when we suggested on these pages that the game had a problem?

The photo in The Irish Times (December 10, 2014) of the kids at the Junior World Championships wearing 'Keep Rugby Clean' tee-shirts? The headline on the Alan Quinlan column on the same page: 'I'm not naïve enough to think there are no drugs in rugby but we need more evidence'.

The indignation of Cian Healy on Twitter: "Better call in and cancel weights on Monday, I'm getting too big for a journalist's idea of what sport is." The statement from the IRFU CEO Philip Browne: "The IRFU has a zero tolerance policy to cheating within rugby." The interview with Joe Schmidt in The Irish Times: "I think there are some really good guidelines that are being put out by the IRFU."

Simon Zebo and Jamie Heaslip posing for photographers with a 'Keep Rugby Clean' placard in Lansdowne Road. The astonishment of Tony Ward in the Irish Independent: "This is an issue I find difficult to get my head around. Never in my years playing rugby did I hear 'performance-enhancing' even mentioned, never mind practised."

The collective outrage of current and former internationals as they lined-up to agree with him:

"I've spent . . .

"Two."

"Five."

"Eight."

"Ten."

. . . years in the changing room and never seen it"

They can see it now.

On Friday, a South African import, Gerbrandt Grobler, played for Munster 'A' in the 17-12 defeat of Nottingham in the British and Irish Cup. This is what it says about the 25-year-old lock on the official Munster website:

"Grobler made the move to Munster from Top 14 side Racing 92 where he played on 20 occasions during the 2016/2017 season, including a start against Munster in round two of the Champions Cup, and scored five tries. The imposing second-row forward previously represented Western Province in the Currie and Vodacom Cups, and played Super Rugby with The Stormers."

This is what it doesn't say: In February 2015, the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport revealed that Grobler had tested positive for an anabolic steroid, admitted his guilt and was banned for two years.

So it was a surprise to pick up the Irish Independent on Thursday, when the omission was addressed by the excellent Rúaidhrí O'Connor. A confessed doper was playing for Munster! He was being supported by the Munster coach! How had that happened? Who had signed off on it? Had anyone told Joe Schmidt or Philip Browne? What had happened to the IRFU's zero-tolerance policy on doping?

But the most worrying aspect was the message it sent to kids: "What does it say to anybody in the Munster Academy when a known confessed drug cheat who has served a ban for taking an anabolic steroid is brought into the club?" Ger Gilroy fumed on Thursday's Off The Ball.

"What does it say to the Munster fans and what do the Munster fans have to say about this? And if you're a sponsor, are you happy to be associated with the fact that this guy is now representing Munster, the province, Irish rugby by extension, and the brands who are associated with it?"

On Friday, in a follow-up discussion, he told Dave McIntyre and Brian O'Driscoll why the story had made him so angry: "We did a roadshow a couple of years ago with a bunch of Munster rugby players and afterwards the conversation turned to Chiliboy Ralepelle who had just been served with a drugs ban. And one of the Munster players went: 'That boy's a cheat!' And he was really animated about it, just out of nothing. And I (thought): 'If that's what the players felt about somebody else in that circumstance, then they must feel exactly the same about this guy'. And now he's part of their legacy!

"They built this unbelievable brand at Munster and built it all on their own. They were guardians of that brand and did it spectacularly well and now, for no particular reason, they've got a second-row who's come in and (said): 'Actually, I was a cheat too'."

O'Driscoll concurred: "It does smear it." Then he added a caveat: "I think, from a player perspective, it's a difficult one, because it's not your decision to bring this player in . . . You can be sure that some of the Munster players feel a little bit uneasy but (they) can't let that be voiced or be known."

Dave McIntyre was listening patiently: "They are going to have to answer the question at press conferences," he argued. "You say to Conor Murray: 'What are your thoughts on having a convicted drugs cheat as one of your team-mates?'"

O'Driscoll wasn't having it: "Do you know what his line will be? 'Well, he's served his ban and he made an error and . . . everyone deserves a second opportunity'. That will be the line, but you won't get a sense of what people truly believe?"

But what do they truly believe?

In a week when Grobler made headlines and four New Zealand players were busted for dope, you waited for the outrage. There could be all sorts of reasons why, individually, it couldn't be addressed, but there was a collective silence. You opened The Examiner on Friday expecting a robust response from Ronan O'Gara, their star columnist - he gave it a swerve. Paul Wallace and Neil Francis on The Last Word? Not mentioned. Alan Quinlan's column in the Irish Independent yesterday? Not mentioned. Donncha O'Callaghan in The Times? Not mentioned.

Keith Wood? Nothing. Paul O'Connell? Nothing. Tony Ward? Nothing. Simon Zebo? Nothing. Jamie Heaslip? Nothing. Joe Schmidt? Nothing. At least Eddie O'Sullivan tried to blame it on the media: "Why wasn't this brought up when he signed?" But you had to ask: Where have all the great anti-dopers gone?

So, it's business as usual for Irish rugby I guess. Luke Fitzgerald with his Leinster chums on his podcast. Liam Toland lecturing us on why CJ Stander is a better Irishman than Conor McGregor. The fans lapping it up and calling for Jordan Larmour.

Me? I'm heading south with a message for Garrett Fitzgerald, the Munster CEO, and three billboards for Thomond Park:

 

IRISH BY BIRTH, MUNSTER BY THE GRACE OF STEROIDS

IS WINNING ALL THAT COUNTS?

WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?

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