If you wanna hang out you've got to take her out; cocaine.
If you wanna get down, down on the ground; cocaine.
If you got bad news you wanna kick them blues; cocaine.
When your day is done and you wanna run; cocaine.
If your thing is gone and you wanna ride on; cocaine.
Don't forget this fact, you can't get it back; cocaine.
She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie: cocaine.
'Cocaine' by JJ Cale
'Class A, it's ok, everyone is doing it." The quote of the year. No question. These were the words of Justin Harrison uttered on the Bath RFC bus coming home from a final day jolly.
His statement is a truism. He is absolutely right – everyone is doing it. His drug of choice happened to be cocaine and he joins a distinguished list of sporting imbibers: Martina Hingis, Adrian Mutu, Mike Tyson, Diego Maradona, Matt Stevens, Yuri Van Gelder, Javier Sotomayor, Richard Gasquet, Tom Boonen, Wendell Sailor, Marco Pantani and Vitas Gerulaitis. They all thought Class A was okay. Well, all except Pantani who was depressed when he took a cocaine overdose which killed him. Cocaine being the contributing cause of his depression. Gerulaitis who was a cocaine junkie died of, eh, natural causes aged 40. The rest of them are still with us, thank God.
Harrison's case is revealing in the sense that when someone is branded a rotten apple in the barrel – people absorb the news, assimilate the content and think no more of the story thinking it's all tip and no berg. In this instance though Harrison joins Matt Stevens who had his contracts with Bath and England nullified for testing positive for cocaine. Harrison also will wait with interest to see how his former Bath team-mates Michael Lipman, Andrew Higgins and Alex Crockett fare after being charged with refusing to take drug tests on three separate occasions. Despite resigning from the club and stating that they will all "vigorously contest the charges" they face a tough battle. So when does a few rotten apples become a quorum? Five players, two already convicted and three suspected of taking cocaine, the state of Denmark needs to take a good look at itself. Is five players a median per club or are we underscoring the extent of the problem? We will return to the macro impact of the story, but Harrison's own tale needs a little bit of examination.
I have to go on record and say that I have no confidence in any of the rugby governing bodies' disciplinary hearings, the quasi-legal nature of the process or the quality of their deliberations or conclusions.
In this instance the hearing chaired by Jeff Blackett left me bemused as to how accommodating it could be when dealing with a clear-cut case. Harrison got off very lightly.
In written transcripts from the hearing, Harrison claimed that Bath had been rocked by the two-year ban handed out to Matt Stevens after testing positive for cocaine. Harrison said that many players, himself included, dealt with it through humour, which was why he had made his remark about Class A drugs on the coach when he tried to impersonate a flight attendant. Funny that! This coming from a friend of Matt Stevens who, a day after Stevens' positive result, stated that "anything I can do to take the load off his shoulders in the next few months I will do gladly and with a passion. It's obviously disappointing, he's someone I've enjoyed having around. I have a good laugh with him." Is that with him or at him?
Jeff Blackett wrote in his report that Harrison had met some "Australians" and he continued to drink steadily. "At some stage, one of the Australians whom he knew but did not wish to name, asked him if he would like some 'gear'. He knew this to mean illicit drugs. He nodded his assent and was handed a small wrap of paper which he took into a cubicle in the toilets, opened and ingested orally. He said the substance was crystallised white rock which he believed to be cocaine. He had a numbing feeling in his gums and the effect of the ingestion was a heightened sense of enjoyment and increased joviality.
He could not explain why he did this but he asserted he had never taken cocaine during any rugby season in the past. He said it was an isolated incident that did not involve any other Bath player.
Blackett stated that Harrison had risked his reputation during "a few moments of madness" caused by drinking too much. Blackett added that the RFU was satisfied about Harrison's version of events and that he was not trying to protect other players.
I find it difficult to accept that. I don't accept his explanation about the bus and I think the assertion that he made that he had never taken cocaine during any rugby season in the past is a qualified statement.
I have never met Justin Harrison, by all accounts off the field he is an articulate, intelligent man, good company and has a sense of humour. On the field he was a wanker. And it's rare that I would side with Austin Healy on anything.
I have a huge amount of respect for Bath RFC, but that club is a cess-pit at the moment and they need to clear out any other concerns that might still be malingering there. They might also dig deeper to see whether it was someone within their organisation who was supplying their players with Class A substances. Amazing too that nearly all of Bath's management structure is still in place. Surely they must have had suspicions? To have one player on Charlie is casual, two is careless, three?
Bath were at the notorious Church Bar in London. It's a big rugby haunt and Harrison said that is where he took cocaine. I would say it wasn't the first time that a rugby player sniffed a line there. Bath are not the only Premiership club with drug problems and if one or two of the London clubs did a couple of out of season tests I don't think anyone would be surprised about the results.
It wasn't too long ago that Lawrence Dallaglio was duped into admitting that he had taken cocaine and ecstasy in a News of the World sting.
Whither Ireland? Well we are not immune either. Harrison is not wrong – everyone is doing it. Let's just remind ourselves what constitutes Class A drugs: LSD, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, magic mushrooms, injectable amphetamines and crack cocaine.
There are three Ireland internationals who played test rugby with me who would have regularly taken Class A drugs throughout their careers. One, a prominent international would have taken every single last Class A drug mentioned above. He would have taken heroin intravenously and smoked it as well and would regularly have gone abroad to "go mad". He would have told me in minute detail what he had taken, how he had taken it, where he got it and what effect it had on him. He had used some of those drugs literally five or six years before they even became well known in Ireland. The second international, another prominent player again took everything on the Class A list apart from heroin. He would also have taken the performance enhancing drugs Dianabol and testosterone. He would also have quite a stash while on tour.
The third was another well-known player whose drug of choice was ecstasy and a strong line in speed and amphetamines. Again he was a Class A tourist. All three told me directly of their habits and I witnessed all three either ingest or smoke Class A drugs.
From 1987 to 1996 there was no out-of-competition testing. There was very little in-competition testing either, no-one was ever going to get caught. I would know quite a number of players from Ulster, Leinster and Munster who at one stage or another would have taken cocaine. I am also aware of rugby players who are on the other side of the fence: the supply side.
I played against Dylan O'Grady who got nine months in Strangeways Prison for conspiracy to supply cannabis. O'Grady got one cap for Ireland against Italy in 1999. Another club player who I would have known got four years in Wheatfield for supplying drugs of a far higher calibre.
The biggest fish though was a former SANZA great. He procured Class A and performance enhancing drugs for his squad. He was 'the fence' and 'go to' guy particularly for anabolic steroids where his knowledge of what type of drug required was encyclopaedic. Everyone is doing it!
I would suspect that the current crop are not stupid, they are regularly tested. But I would have detected an unease from certain quarters in the IRFU. There is a risk that with the Irish team's recent success over the last five to six years some of the parties consorting with Irish players would certainly have engaged in sniffage and on the basis that if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas. You can appreciate the governing bodies' anxiety.
In the States nearly every roster from the NFL to NBA to the MLB has a running history with Class A drugs, particularly cocaine. Every time an athlete dies on court, on the training field or in the weights room, fit young men in their prime – the only question I ask myself is it Class A drugs or anabolic steroids?
So it looks like it is going to take a death before the governing bodies wake up to the fact that everyone is doing it. The RFU tried to do something about it on 15 July this year with the Illicit Drugs Forum in Rugby in Twickenham. RFU head of sports medicine Simon Kemp said: "We looked at all aspects of the illicit drugs issue, from testing to education and rehabilitation, so that those that govern the game as administrators and participate as coaches and players can formulate what we hope will be a world leading and effective Illicit Drugs Policy and Programme."
Kemp also said: "The issue of illicit drug use in rugby forces us all to consider how best we could potentially balance the need for a clear and strong 'Anti-Drugs' message, protect the image of the game and maximise the deterrence value of a sanction whilst providing a 'fair' opportunity for players to achieve a successful rehabilitation."
Okay, minor congratulations. Problem recognition is one small step. But there are too many sound-bites and an emphasis on being seen to do the right thing. I'm pretty sure the RFU know the scale of their problems but I'm not sure the IRFU do. Maybe some of the insights given here might wake them up.
The first step is at contract stage. The IRFU follow WADA protocol, a two-year-ban for in-competition positive and a fairly watery ban for out of season. Harrison's ban was technically out of season by hours so he gets eight months which sends out the wrong signals. Worse signals given by his assessors.
It's simple: an unbreachable and indivisible clause in every player's contract that if Class A drugs are found in their system, that's it they're gone forever – no clemency, mitigating factors, mercy – nothing.
Protect their game; protect their players (perhaps from themselves!) If they don't they will be made to look like proper Charlies.