Iain Morrison: Unwelcome shadow cast on Scottish rugby

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I WAS lucky enough to be in Australia in the summer, following the Lions and enjoying a family holiday at the same time.

We did something that is perhaps only possible Down Under, we watched three different oval ball codes on three successive days.

The Sunday after the Lions’ second Test in Melbourne, we joined 55,000-odd spectators who watched an Aussie Rules league match at the Melbourne Cricket Club between Richmond Tigers and St Kilda Saints. The following day, after flying up to Sydney, we witnessed Sonny Bill Williams strut his stuff for the Sydney Roosters as they turned over the Manly Sea Eagles in the NRL. We bumped into Craig Chalmers in the crowd.

He was there with his son Sam. I’ve met him before, he has always come across as a quiet kid and that night in Sydney was no different. What I didn’t know was that he had good reason to keep his thoughts to himself.

Back in May he’d been called into the Scotland age grade squad that was to play a friendly match against Ireland ahead of the Under-20 World Championships. After the match he’d been randomly selected for a drugs test and that test came back positive.

Sam made a mistake, an error of judgment that will earn him the “doper” label for a long time. Some would say that it’s only what he deserves and perhaps they are right. The hearing took place last week and the sentence will be passed down from the IRB’s Dublin office in the coming days. A two-year, worldwide ban from the game would be par for the course. Sam made a mistake and he will pay a hefty price.

It must have been an almost impossible to emulate a figure like his father Craig, capped by Scotland and the Lions. His parents separated several years ago, which is never easy on the kids. Sam is slight, diabetic and allergic to various foodstuffs. Nature determined that Sam Chalmers is small in an era when size and strength are the only currencies with any clout in the rugby world. It is drummed into the age grade players that they have to be bigger and faster and stronger and the SRU tests them regularly to make sure. It seems unlikely that the teenager took whatever he took in complete isolation and a little scratching in and around this case suggests that performance enhancing drugs in the club game extends beyond one individual, although how much further is impossible to quantify. The simple truth is that the odds on being caught if you are a club player are remote to say the least. (Sam Chalmers was fingered because he was called into the elite Scotland U20 squad. Had he remained with the Melrose second team we would probably know nothing about it.)

The UK anti-doping agency conducted just 76 tests in Scottish rugby during the 2012-13 season and that is throughout every level of the game, from schoolboy up to and including international. There are no figures immediately available for the club game but the number is obviously below 76 per annum, when there are several hundred club matches every weekend.

A Premier One club could go through an entire season without seeing a man in a lab coat. Even when the testers do turn up, the protocols are not what you’d call foolproof. In match conditions there is little enough wriggle room if your number is up but, on a training night, one club coach suggested that any player who is guilty of anything untoward, be it steroid abuse or a sly puff on a joint, could simply shin the back fence and disappear. He did not claim that he had witnessed any such behaviour.

This being the goldfish bowl that is Scotland rugby, the rumour mill went into overdrive. “There were two players involved. No, there were three. In addition to the performance-enhancing stuff, there were recreational drugs. Substance abuse at club level is rife. No, it’s non-existent.” No one wants to say anything about the case because, officially at least, Sam Chalmers’ name has not even been confirmed but it is unlikely that any of the above is true. Sam Chalmers took something he should not have taken and that’s the end of it. Perhaps his example will deter others from doing the same because you have to hope some sliver of good emerges from this sorry story.