Drug cocktails hard for old players to stomach

JEFF WILSON
Last updated 10:00 23/03/2014

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OPINION: The growing controversy over professional athletes using a cocktail of prescription pills and energy drinks puzzles me. It's hard to understand why someone would risk their livelihood, not to mention their health, for something they know so little about.

Professional sport over the years has had its run-ins with illegal substances, and you'd be naive to think that players don't experiment. But things appear to have gone to a new level with this latest "fad".

The way I look at it, it's up to individuals to make their own choices. But the expectation of a pro athlete is you will look after yourself in order to give yourself the best chance to perform. You're paid to play sport, and if you make decisions that affect your performance you'll be judged on them.

Some players struggle with the pressures that come with professional sport, and look for different ways to relax and unwind. I'm not sure how widespread this pills and energy drink thing is, but I certainly never came across it, either as a player or a coach.

Was it wrong for Cory Jane and Israel Dagg to do it during the World Cup? Absolutely. What I find crazy is that they're doing it without knowing what effect it's having on their bodies?

I can't understand why anyone would take that risk, let alone athletes who depend on their bodies for their livelihood.

The disappointing thing is they've decided they needed some enjoyment or stimulation, and have looked for something artificial to provide it. They obviously didn't have enough satisfaction from what they were doing, and what they were part of.

It's unprofessional behaviour in what was New Zealand rugby's biggest moment - and rightly it's raised a few eyebrows.

One of the justifications could be it's better for you than drinking alcohol. But is that the case? There are so many things we don't know about this "cocktail", and that's what worries me most. They are answers I would seek urgently if I was a young sportsman contemplating it.

On to rugby matters. I got a kick out of seeing my old team bounce back from a pretty ordinary performance in Dunedin on Friday night, but I'm wondering how much of it was the Highlanders being good, versus the Hurricanes being average?

The upshot is the Highlanders appear to have found their identity again. Their performance was a lot more measured, it relied heavily on defence, they forced the Hurricanes into a lot of mistakes and they took their opportunities.

This is what Super Rugby is about. You get presented opportunities and if you're good enough you take them. The Hurricanes simply aren't taking their opportunities.

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I was surprised by Jeremy Thrush's absence. We were told it was because of a wedding, and his defection for such a key fixture was crucial.

Having such a vital player take time off mid-season certainly didn't help their cause.

Are they doing everything possible to win games and prepare to win games? We're still seeing the same inconsistency that has plagued Canes teams in recent times.

You just can't be off your game at this level. The Hurricanes gave away too many penalties within kicking range and just didn't look in the right head space to perform.

Once again, questions will be asked about coach Mark Hammett. But, really, did we believe the Hurricanes were going to be any different this year?

I'm sure the Canes fans were hopeful, but I didn't come in thinking they would be better than the Chiefs or Crusaders. I never saw enough change within the organisation to suggest they were going to be a better team.

It's hard to say what they can do now. Their chemistry just isn't quite right, and they've felt the absence of Brad Shields and Victor Vito. The Crusaders are up next, followed by the Bulls, Blues and Reds, and Hammett is going to be challenged to find solutions.

On the other hand, Jamie Joseph will be feeling better this week. You have to admire some of the changes in Dunedin, and they appear to be making progress.

The big thing now is can they keep it going? They are in the contest, and you sense there's a willingness to learn, which is important. There are a lot of newer faces around the Highlanders, and they took the lessons of the Force debacle on board, and responded.

Their challenge now is to keep doing it against better teams.

- Sunday Star Times

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