Pill thrills foreign to ex Crusder Rebuen Thorne
Ex-All Blacks skipper Reuben Thorne cannot comprehend why players would consume sleeping pills and energy drinks to get a buzz, and never witnessed the controversial practice during his career.
Like several retired players spoken to by The Press – on and off the record – Thorne, who amassed 50 test caps and made 129 appearances for the Crusaders, is uneasy about the controversial practice of swallowing prescription tablets to get high.
Revelations All Blacks Israel Dagg and Cory Jane had consumed sleeping pills while out drinking during the 2011 World Cup have confirmed suspicions the Kiwis rugby league players, who the New Zealand Rugby League investigated for being involved in the practice at last year's World Cup, are not alone in mis-using pills.
Crusaders fullback Dagg is one person who can explain why it is done, but he ducked for cover this week. The Crusaders have a bye this weekend.
Thorne, who made his Crusaders debut in 1997, and was last involved with them in 2011, has never witnessed drugs of any kind being used by players in New Zealand.
"This thing of mixing sleeping pills with energy drinks, I had never come across that until it came out in the media. I have never come across it (any drug use), I have never seen it, I have never been around it in the New Zealand rugby environment."
Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach this week told Fairfax the mis-use of pills wasn't acceptable and player eduction around such issues was paramount: "This is not a practice we condone in any shape or form."
Sleeping pills have always been issued by team doctors to help players adjust to time zones on long trips. Players have been forbidden from hoarding them to use with energy drinks, or for competitions involving who can stay awake the longest.
"The only time I ever used sleeping pills was when travelling to South Africa," Thorne said.
"As far I was aware there was no mixing of sleeping pills with energy drinks back then. Certainly not with the guys I was hanging out with – it wasn't an issue."
However, there have been suspicions Super Rugby players have been involved in the practice. Revelations about Dagg and Jane's antics in 2011 have just fuelled those concerns.
The problem for team management is that players cannot be constantly monitored, and because they are not taking prohibited substances, they will not return a positive drugs test.
When Thorne first played professional rugby, players used alcohol to unwind following matches.
Then things changed; coaches and medical staff warned that drinking could inhibit players' recovery, and encouraged them to limit their booze intake or not drink at all.
Yet the players, who are instructed to go out and smash their opponents during games, are so hyped on adrenaline after matches that they struggle to switch off.
"When I came home after a night game it was hard to sleep," Thorne confirmed. "The mind was still racing and the body is still pretty pumped up, so you would stay up to watch TV well after midnight.
"The young guys do need a release because they are under a lot of pressure to perform.
"I don't think that is an excuse, though, for doing anything silly or illegal. But they do need to let some steam off somehow."
Some Super Rugby teams breathalise players to ensure they haven't broken agreements not to drink.
Thorne said it was used from "time to time" during his playing days.
"Occasionally they would do a random one, especially if we had a short turnaround between games. The coach or the captain would make a call that they didn't want anybody going and getting boozed up.
"It wasn't about catching people out, it was about making sure they drank to an acceptable level."