Wednesday 13 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: Why hitting the booze is no longer appropriate behaviour for players

James O'Connor has signed for London Irish
James O'Connor has signed for London Irish

The most intriguing expression used in the statement confirming mass sanctions is the one referencing "inappropriate levels of alcohol".

What constitutes inappropriate? Beneath the inevitable blizzard of giddy tweets speculating what a sober group might have inflicted on Ireland resides a pretty dark and topical story for Australian sport.

Given that the sanctions taken against a total of 13 players were "internal" and that eight of those saw game-time at Lansdowne Road, this could have been easily swept under the carpet by the ARU.

That they chose not to do so reflects the climate in which they now operate and the broad message they are desperate to articulate.

Just last month, James O'Connor was released from his ARU contract after being arrested by police at Perth airport, the latest in a string of disciplinary lapses for the Wallabies' starting out-half.

Last month, controversy surrounded the Australian International Rules team after fellow guests complained of a rowdy drinking session at their Dromoland base that drifted on past 5am.

Australian sport's relationship with booze has always made for colourful headlines, but it is a particularly live subject Down Under just now, with calls for a ban on alcohol sponsorship.

The ARU might, logically, have imposed their sanctions before the Ireland game.

That they didn't suggests that the coach, Ewen McKenzie, either worried that doing so might grievously weaken them for a dangerous fixture or felt the need to challenge some of those involved to front up physically.

Either way, they were not willing to keep the issue in-house.

The players, McKenzie said, consumed "inappropriate levels of alcohol" four days before a Test match against Ireland.

But what constitutes inappropriate? Four pints? Six? A dozen? That much we don't know.

What we do know is that, if they were GAA county men, they'd never see the jersey again.

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