Modern rugby players are in a bulk and power arms race - but must be responsible over doping dangers

Alix Popham
RBS Six Nations Launch
The pressure is on rugby players to be bigger and stronger than ever (Source: Getty)

Saturday’s England v Wales battle is being touted as the biggest game of the season and when you look at the sheer size of the players this is true in more ways than one. Today’s international players are bigger than ever and just when you think they have maxed out, someone comes along who resets the norm.

As spectators this is exciting but for the men involved, the pressure to maintain bulk, endurance and speed is higher than ever. Not only emotionally, when you carry the weight of a nation’s expectations, but financially too; if you aren’t playing, you aren’t earning.

Read more: Forget the Six Nations and switch on Super Rugby if you want real entertainment

You would have thought that this environment would create the perfect storm for an innate culture of doping – but not so. Nearly every other sport has fallen foul of anti-doping laws yet elite rugby stays clean. No clearer testament of this was the fact that there was not a singled failed test at last year’s Rugby World Cup. So how is rugby managing to buck the trend?

I recently took part in a round table discussion on this topic, hosted by leading nutrition and supplement provider Healthspan Elite, and the voices around the table were very clear – athletes need to be far more accountable for their own ability to pass or fail an anti-doping test but there is also a duty of care within all sporting agencies to ensure the right education and support for these athletes is in place. This is where rugby has done an outstanding job.

A fellow panelist was Stephen Watkins, the RFU anti-doping Manager, who pointed out a basic conundrum that rugby attracts young men between 18-24, an age when body image is a big consideration, both for playing and in terms of general self-esteem. One of the messages, aside from the fact that taking the wrong thing is cheating, is that these drugs are serious and can have awful, negative health consequences.

Where elite rugby has done well (the lower levels, less so) is that the very best players have been tested for many years which has meant that players really do have to understand their vulnerabilities.

As was shown with the Sharapova scandal earlier this week, there is a real need for athletes to accept personal responsibility for ensuring they are competing clean – and it is also the job of governing bodies and the athlete’s team to educate them. Plenty of athletes understand this and, as was seen with Sharapova, it is devastating for the individual and the sport when the ones who really should know better, don’t.

Healthspan Elite is the Nutrition Partner to elite sporting bodies including Team Sky, Southampton FC, British Sailing, Scottish Rugby, Sport Wales and The English Institute of Sport.

Visit to find out more about Healthspan Elite’s Informed-Sport accredited range, for expert content and to be the first to hear about the latest product innovations.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles