Has rugby got a drinking problem? Pic: Getty Images.

Drinking Has Long Been A Part Of The Culture Within Rugby . . . Has The Sport Got An Unhealthy Relationship With Alcohol?

By Stuart Taylor

“I’m off for a quiet pint – followed by fifteen noisy ones,” said former Bath and England prop Gareth Chilcott.

The quote is pretty much the embodiment of how people view rugby’s relationship with alcohol.

It is a relationship that has stood the test of time. Indeed both have been good for each other over the years.

Like all relationships, rugby and alcohol have endured their rocky patches.

In the amateur days, the drinking culture was well known and indeed, in some cases, was the cause of disgrace to Wales as a nation.

Wales rugby fans still endure nightmare flashbacks to when Wales toured  Australia in July 1991.

After being humiliated on the field with a heavy defeat to New South Wales 71-8, Wales took a Ballymore bashing as they lost to then world champions Australia 63-6.

It got worse as Welsh players were involved in a kind of civil war at the after-match dinner

The Australian press didn’t hold back as one headline read: “Woeful Wales wallop each other”.

Captain of the ill-fated Australian tour was Paul Thorburn, who retired with immediate effect after the defeat.

“The harm to Welsh rugby was incalculable,” wrote Thorburn.

“Here we were, the clowns of international rugby both on and off the field. We were a disgrace in every sense, and I was ashamed to be a Welshman. How in God’s name were we to have any respect?

“If the publicity was bad, then we deserved it, and no ranting or raving from tour manager Clive Rowlands on the bus could alter the immense damage caused,” he added.

Aww, the good old amateur days.

Some of the professional days haven’t been much better,  well, where the drink is involved.

Who can forget the much-publicised incident which led to former Wales back-row star Andy Powell being banned from driving for 15 months for driving a golf buggy on the M4 motorway while drunk?

The infamous ‘buggygate’ incident took place following Wales’ Six Nations victory over Scotland in Cardiff in 2010. Powell thought it would be a good idea to take a buggy from the Vale of Glamorgan training base where the Wales squad and management were staying.

Powell was more than a decent rugby player gaining 23 Wales caps and was selected for the British and Irish Lion’s 2009 South Africa tour.

However, his deeds off the pitch cemented his name in rugby folklore, especially the buggy incident

“It took us 45 minutes to get there, and then the copper pulled up — caught red-handed! So I was put in a van, taken to the station and drove past some of the players on the way.

“They were still p***ed up, outside the doorway of Walkabout. The police stopped at McDonald’s and got me a double sausage McMuffin, so I got something to eat after all!”

By all accounts, Powell is a likeable character with many friends within rugby. In his playing days, he was seen as a must-have player on a touring trip; such was his morale-boosting nature.

However, when an international rugby player becomes iconic mainly due to drunken exploits, it shines a light on a dark problem within the sport.

People will point to drinking being an integral part of rugby culture. But, of course, you can’t have one without the other; they argue that alcohol helps to forge team spirit, ultimately leading to better on-pitch performances, but when does excessive drinking become a blight on rugby?

In April 2011, Dr Carwyn Jones, a reader in sports ethics at the Cardiff School of Sport, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (Uwic), wrote: “The symbiotic relationship between playing and drinking remains as central to rugby today as it ever did. However, the choice to abstain is not an easy one to make. The rugby ethos requires individuals to drink heavily – it’s a cornerstone of masculinity, hardness, and heterosexuality,” he added.

Cast your minds back to 2013 when Gavin Henson was involved in a punch-up with new Bath teammate Carl Fearns when they were on a pub crawl as part of a team bonding session.

The video of a drunk Henson being punched to the floor went viral. As a result, both players were fined for misconduct and warned about their future behaviour.

It took former England lock Dave Attwood nine years of reflection to admit that the actions of Henson’s Bath teammates were unacceptable

“We’d basically not been very good people at all. Gav had stressed that he wasn’t drinking on our team social to the Thatchers factory; he was like, ‘no, I’m not drinking, lads, I’m not going to’.

We were like, ‘have a drink, have a drink’,” confessed Attwood.

“We basically carried on until he broke, and then he couldn’t turn it off. So it was entirely our fault, and we take full responsibility for it. But honestly, he was so much fun, so much fun until like 11pm, and it was, ‘alright, that’s enough now, Gav. Thanks, you have been great. But he just accelerated, carried on going.

“Then we were in this bar, and he said something to Carl Fearns, and Fearns was like ‘na’. Out like a light.”

“To be honest, a large degree of the squad needed to take a bit of responsibility for that because he had been quite adamant that he wasn’t going to drink.

“It was only because 50 blokes were baying for blood that he eventually cracked and had a beer or two. So then suddenly we were like, ‘we realise why you were so adamant you weren’t going to drink’. So we take responsibility for that,” admitted Attwood.

Even though the Henson incident happened in 2013, it seems not much has changed regarding the relationship which exists between rugby and booze.

Professionally retired Dragons fly-half Jason Tovey believes rugby’s culture has become dull since the start of his playing days at Rodney Parade.

“Now it’s just so dull most of the boys take photos and boast about it. All you do these days is sing on the bus, which is far too tame, “said Tovey.

“When I started at the Dragons, I had people like Rhys Thomas, Adam Black, Steve “Jabba” Jones, and Luke Charteris as teammates. The Dragons was a fun place to be. I loved going into training and being around these guys.

“We had some mental, social events back then. I’ll never forget my initiation into the first team. Have you ever played the old drinking game where they’d throw something like a golf ball or a coin into your pint, and you’d have to down it if it landed in your drink? Well, that’s what I did, only they used a dead rat from a pet shop instead. I remember thinking, ‘f*** me, this is professional rugby, and I’m downing a pint with a dead rat in it!’

Of course, that definitely wouldn’t happen today, but back then, some of the old amateur traditions were still present in the professional game, and it was much more enjoyable,” added Tovey.

The fly-half recalls one team bonding drinking session where things got a bit grim.

“I had blood coming out of my nose, while I also vomited blood. It was grim, but all your teammates would look after you. If they saw you were in a bad way, they’d make sure you were okay,” confessed Tovey.

Many may be surprised that such incidents were happening in the professional era back in the early days of Tovey’s career, but it seems not much has changed

In celebration of DHL Stormers winning the inaugural United Rugby Championship last weekend by defeating South African rivals Bulls 18-13, flanker Hacjivah Dayimani embarked on a never-ending drinking bender.

Dayimani’s antics have captured people’s attention on social media, including The Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis, who is pictured having a pint with the youngster.

True to form, Dayimani’s exploits off the pitch have brought him almost cult-like status.

Is rugby’s drink at all costs culture an environment that should be encouraged and celebrated?

Many would argue not when alcohol-induced issues are spilling over and being reflected by the behaviour of some fans at Wales matches at the Principality Stadium.

When there are calls from MPs for Welsh rugby to clean up its act regarding the drinking culture at the Principality Stadium following incidents of children being vomited on by drunk fans, things clearly need to change.

Will the drinking fabric of Welsh rugby culture change any time soon? Of course, it must, but unfortunately, it won’t.

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