Former Italy international Carlo del Fava says his suspension for taking a performance enhancing drugs was never brought up during his time at Ulster.
The Italian international served a two-year ban for taking a steroid, Stanozolol in 2002; he restarted his career in Italy with Parma and was handed his international debut in the Italian’s last Six Nations clash against Wales in 2014.
He joined Ulster in 2007 and played with the province until 2009. The 6ft 6in lock says team mates had no issues with his past:
“It wasn’t really brought up, I was always open to speak about it and have a chat with them and discuss all those things but at the time it wasn’t something that was high on the agenda.
“I don’t think it was relevant at the time when we were signing a contract it was more about the performance and where I feel I fitted into the team, if they did want to speak about it I was more than open to, at the same time they obviously knew I came with a lot of baggage.
“During my time at Ulster there wasn’t really anybody that brought it up, that had strong opinions about it, it wasn’t really discussed, I never felt antagonised by the players by it or anybody that had a strong opinion that voiced it to my face at least.
“We were going through a transition time at Ulster at the time, we had a caretaker coach Marl McCall who was in for three months and left, there were other focuses at Ulster at the time and I was definitely least of those focuses.
Del Fava’s remarks that none of us Ulster teammates had any issue seemed at odds with comments made by Ulster’s Chris Henry this week:
"It is hindering home-grown players who have been doing it the right way. That would be my opinion."
"You look at the guys who have made massive contributions, the Robbie Diacks, the Rob Herrings. That's fantastic that they have decided to come over here and contribute and do it the right way.
"But ultimately, if someone is going to take shortcuts and it is going to close the door for a home-grown player from a province, then that is unacceptable.
"If you asked most players from Ireland they would say the same thing."
Responding to Henry’s criticism, del Fava said: “Chris Henry is a brilliant player and a top man, he was coming through the ranks when I was at Ulster, he’s the kind of player that his character would never be in question, never in doubt.
“If he’s opinionated about what Munster need to do, I think he’s earned the right to have that opinion and you’ve to respect him for that, even though he’s said that and his stance he’s not someone I wouldn’t speak to or chat to.
When asked if he then disagreed with Henry’s take on the situation, del Fava countered by saying Henry’s stand was important: “He’s right, he’s got a stance he’s got a principle with a view that’s he’s expressed, he’s earned the right to express that opinion and you can never hold that against them. “I’d be more upset if people didn’t have an opinion about it that would mean they didn’t care. It’s vitally important people have an opinion about it.”
Gerbrandt Grobler is only the second player to have served a drugs ban to be recruited to the Irish system. His arrival at Munster reignited a debate about the system which is promoted as ‘zero tolerance’ that now apparently caters for dopers.
The presence of the second row in the Munster squad this season has caused controversy, but some sections of the Munster fanbase accused the media of taking part in a witch hunt against Grobler.
Many pointed out that Ulster had signed del Fava after he had served a doping ban to little fanfare or controversy.
The former Ulster lock shared his experience when he appeared as a guest on Off The Ball AM on Friday morning. Del Fava admitted the offence when he was caught and was allegedly given the steroid by a fitness trainer.
He told Adrian Barry and Eoin Sheahan about the rationale behind his decision to cheat:
“I just wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t strong enough to cope with the level of rugby that I was playing then, I was in a Super Rugby squad as 19-year-old and you have performance norms you need to meet and criteria you need to meet.
“I was just nowhere near (the required level), a 19-year-old in a Super Rugby squad that can do two pull ups and a one rep max on the bench press is 80kgs. I was way off the mark.
“Having to try and cope with that pressure of being up there and stay with the group that is moving really quickly you look for a way to try and shortcut that and it ends you up in hot water and that’s what happened.
Reflecting on the moment he decided that he would need to cheat to meet the demands of the professional game del Fava said:
Del Fava spoke about the problems that came with taking performance enhancing drugs and reflected on the moment he decided he would have to cheat to meet the demands of the professional game. You can watch the full interview with Carlo del Fava below.