Doping is a growing problem in rugby, particularly across the levels of the game that are not in the spotlight. In recent years, scandals in South African schoolboy rugby and semi-professional rugby in Wales have magnified how widespread this issue has become and various unions have tried to crack down on this. 

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However, in the top tier of professional rugby, failed tests are not as common. That isn’t to say there are none, though. Such cases often receive a lot of attention due to how rare they are among international players. 

Here, RugbyPass sifts through some of the most infamous drugs bans of the modern era: 

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Matt Stevens

Ex-Bath and England prop Matt Stevens was handed a two-year ban by the European Rugby Cup in 2009 after testing positive for cocaine following a fixture against Glasgow in December 2008. The then-26-year-old was at the top of his game when this happened and it understandably created shockwaves. 

The South African-born prop bounced back admirably from this ban, moving to Saracens and resurrecting his career. He was a key member of the London club’s resurgence at the beginning of last decade, starting in the victorious Premiership final in 2011. 

He would also be capped by England again, playing in 2011 World Cup, and was even a surprise pick for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour which followed on from his selection for the 2005 tour as well. 

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Justin Harrison

The Australian was banned for eight months after admitting taking cocaine at an end-of-season party with Bath in London following the 2008/09 campaign. 

The then 35-year-old was one of four players charged by the Rugby Football Union with bringing the game into disrepute after the night out which also evolved a fight with rival Harlequins players. 

Bath trio Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins all resigned and received nine-month bans for failing to take drugs tests.

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Following his ban, Harrison announced his retirement but he made a return to playing by signing a one-year deal with the Brumbies, the side he started his career with. 

He then played for Narbonne in France before moving into coaching. Now works as CEO of the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) in Australia. 

Wendell Sailor 

The former dual-code Australia international was banned for two years in 2006 for cocaine use during his time playing for the New South Wales Waratahs. 

The powerful winger argued that this was only recreational and therefore not performance-enhancing, but the ban still stood. 

This came after a few months of ill-discipline in which Sailor was also sent home from a tour of South Africa for his behaviour, suspended for three matches and fined after an incident outside a Cape Town nightclub.

The drugs ban ended Sailor’s five-year union career in Australia. However, while it threw his entire career into doubt, he made the return to league in 2008 with St George-Illawarra, the club his son Tristan has now made the breakthrough at. 

Johan Ackermann

The current Gloucester coach had a career in South Africa tarnished by his two-year ban in 1997 for taking the steroid nandrolone to help recover from an ankle injury. 

The ex-lock was 26 years of age at the time and already had four Springboks caps to his name, but he was forced to rebuild his career after the ban. 

He spent the two years out of rugby working for the police before a return to play for the Golden Lions, Cats, Griquas and Sharks in South Africa. There was also a stint with Northampton in England. 

He would also play for South Africa again, becoming his country’s oldest ever player in 2007 at the age of 37. That record has since been surpassed. 

Chiliboy Ralepelle

The ex-Springbok hooker’s career has been chequered with drug bans and drug-related incidents. 

It first dated back to 2010 when at the then 24-year-old was suspended and sent home from his country’s end of year tour for testing positive for methylhexanamine constrained in a diet supplement. 

This later turned out to have been supplied by the Springboks themselves and the charges didn’t stand after it was discovered that the British version of the supplement contained methylhexanamine, something which the South African version didn’t.

However, the 25-cap international failed a test again in 2014 while at Toulouse, testing positive for the anabolic steroid, drostanolone. He was banned for two years and his contract with the French giants was terminated. 

He made a return to rugby in 2016 with the Sharks, but the 33-year-old is now awaiting a decision after his hearing for another failed drugs test in early 2019, this time for the growth hormone zeranol, which could result in a career-ending ban. 

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