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Ulster trio must learn to set a better example as top professional rugby players

Cian Tracey


A member of the public exercises in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

A member of the public exercises in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

A member of the public exercises in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

An "unintentional" anti-doping violation and what could easily be perceived as the flouting of strict social-distancing measures - all told, it hasn't been a great few days for rugby's image.

These are tough times for everyone and professional players who are desperately trying to stay fit in the hope that the season will resume later this year are no different.

However, that also means they are no different when it comes to adhering to government guidelines - if anything, there is now an even greater emphasis on players who are using public spaces to maintain their fitness to set a good example.

When Ulster brothers Alan and David O'Connor decided to go to a local park to train yesterday, it is perfectly plausible that their team-mate Marty Moore crossed their path by chance.

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Given that the trio live close to each other no one is suggesting otherwise, yet the issue is Moore does not share the same house as the O'Connors and therefore should not have been exercising near them.

Based on UK government guidelines, members of the same household are permitted to exercise together, which means the O'Connors were entitled to go through their routine.

Even if Moore wasn't partaking in the same session, being togged out in his Ulster shorts whilst holding a training cone a few feet away from his team-mates was not a good look.

As a nation, the idea of social distancing does not sit well. There is plenty of evidence of that, not least in Dublin where some people still haven't copped on to the fact that it is not clever to stop and chat on the streets or in the local park.

The O'Connors and Moore shouldn't need to be told that they are public figures who many young people will look up to.

It's not unusual to see youngsters still playing football in the local park and while the parents have a lot to answer for in that regard, three top professional rugby players must surely have known better than to be seen in training gear in close proximity of each other.

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There is a civic duty on everyone to do their bit in the bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, especially when you consider how tireless front-line staff are continuing to work through the crisis.

What message does it send out to those who spotted the trio in the park? Not a very good one, we would politely suggest.

They are no longer in the inner sanctum of the Kingspan Stadium where what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors.

Instead, the trio's naivety means that Ulster have had to remind their players of their responsibilities at a time when it should be blatantly obvious, let alone on the same day the club announced that all players and the majority of its staff were to be put on furlough.

Ulster played down the incident, telling the Irish Independent: "A small number of Ulster Rugby players were pictured exercising in an open space as part of their individual training programmes.

"This was not a pre-arranged gathering and two of the players pictured are brothers who live in the same household.

"All training programmes issued to the players are designed to be done remotely, with specific social distancing protocols included.

"The players have been reminded to respect social distancing when exercising outdoors and we shall continue to reinforce this message."

The O'Connors and Moore are not the only professionals to have let themselves and their club down recently.

Earlier this month, several Crusaders players, including All Black out-half Richie Mo'unga, were found to have breached lockdown rules by exercising together.

Then there were the repeated offences made by Tottenham Hotspur players, the latest of which just this week.

Everyone understands that the adjustment has been tough, simply because everyone is going through the same process and although it may be more difficult for elite athletes, no one is above the law.

Rugby does its best to hold itself to certain high moral values, quite often ad nauseam, and while the Ulster trio deserve a slap on the wrist, they must also quickly learn that professional rugby players are expected to set an example.

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