Second drugs rap for Sale prop

10 April 2019, 10:03 | Updated: 10 April 2019, 10:04

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Sale Sharks prop Jake Pope has been given a six-month ban for becoming the first player to break the sport's rules on recreational drugs twice, the Rugby Football Union has announced.

The 21-year-old, a member of England's Under-20 team in 2017, received a fixed fine of £1,000 later that year when he tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test.

Under the RFU's 'Illicit Drugs Programme', first-time offences are not made public, but Pope then tested positive for cannabis and cocaine last November.

He quickly admitted the violation and his case was dealt with by an independent disciplinary panel on February 11. His ban starts on December 4, the date of his provisional suspension, and runs until June 4.

Pope could have been given a 12-month ban but the three-man panel - leading sports lawyer Jeremy Summer, Arsenal and British Lions team doctor Dr Gary O'Driscoll and former England and Wasps player Dr Tom Rees - decided to give him the maximum allowed reduction of 50 per cent because of his cooperation and speedy confession. He was also fined another £1,000.

In a statement, the governing body's anti-doping and illicit drugs programme manager Stephen Watkins said: "The purpose of the illicit drugs policy is primarily to protect the health and welfare of players. This means that, in the first instance, the problem can be dealt with as a confidential health-related issue.

"This is the first time we have had a second offence since the policy was established in 2010. It should send a strong deterrent message to all players that the RFU takes the misuse of substances seriously.

"Players have responsibilities as role models in our sport and therefore have an important part to play in protecting its reputation."

Pope, who has not made any first-team appearances for Sale this season but came off the bench twice last year, had hoped that his second violation could be kept confidential, too, but was told by the panel the rules did not allow that.

In any event, the panel's written judgement added, "the publication of this decision is clearly desirable from the perspective of both education and on-going deterrence".

The RFU brought in its recreational drugs policy following the scandal involving former Bath and England prop Matt Stevens, who was given a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine in an in-competition test in 2009.

In a statement on the club's website, Sale said: "As a role model to young players across the north west, this behaviour is unacceptable.

"The club does not condone the misuse of drugs from any player and accept the decision made by the RFU, however Sale Sharks prides itself on being able to offer a career pathway into rugby for people of all backgrounds and circumstances and for this reason we feel it is right that, as a young man who has made mistakes, Jake be given a fair chance to redeem himself."

The club added that they "intervened to ensure Jake had the support pathway" he needed as soon as they were made aware of the failed tests.