New Zealand deny World Cup sleeping pills cover-up

New Zealand Rugby Union chief Steve Tew has denied accusations of a “cover-up” after revealing that All Blacks pair Cory Jane and Israel Dagg had misused sleeping pills in a “silly” competition ahead of the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

Cory Jane and Israel Dagg celebrate after the 2011 World Cup final. Picture: AFP/Getty

The abuse of prescription drugs has been a hot issue in New Zealand after the country’s rugby league governing body said it was probing the national team after last year’s World Cup in England.

Tew added fuel to the fire, saying Jane and Dagg, who were disciplined for drinking at the 2011 rugby union World Cup, had used sleeping pills on a big night out.

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“At the time we struggled to understand how taking a sleeping pill could keep you up late at night and getting into trouble,” local media quoted Tew as saying. “It still seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it.

“They were drinking. There’s no question about that. At the time there was mention of sleeping pills but the key was they were out past the curfew, they were drinking two or three days before the quarter-final.

“They let the team down, they let themselves down and it was dealt with as we’d expect them to be dealt with. As I understand it it was almost as silly as let’s have some sleeping pills and see who can stay up the longest.”

During the World Cup, which New Zealand won, the All Blacks’ management said Dagg and Jane had been disciplined for drinking, but made no mention of their taking sleeping pills.

“It wasn’t a cover up. These are private employment matters, too,” Tew said. “Remember we are bound by some stringent legislation as is everybody else in this country is,” he said. “The incident that occurred that night was at a level where it was dealt with internally by the team.”

The NZRU have said they are investigating the practice, but have not called for a ban on sleeping pills or prescription drugs in rugby.

Elite athletes across a range of sport take sleeping pills and prescription drugs to help them wind down after competition. Australia’s National Rugby League, the world’s richest rugby league competition, has also focused on concerns about players’ abusing prescription drugs, and announced on Wednesday they would start testing players for several varieties.

Australia’s Olympic committee banned its London delegation from taking Stilnox, a commonly prescribed sleeping bill, after former Olympic 1,500 metres champion swimmer Grant Hackett admitted to becoming dependent on them.

That did not stop members of Australia’s 4x100m men’s freestyle swimming team from taking them in an unauthorised ‘bonding’ session in the lead-up to London, a breach of discipline that saw them fined and reprimanded last year.