Do Rugby Players Take Steroids?

By looking at the size of some rugby players you would swear they have to be on steroids. The combination of muscle and low body fat does not seem achievable without the assistance of drugs. In this article we examine if rugby players are really building their physiques with just hard work and training or are they getting some chemical assistance?

Do rugby players take steroids?

Steroid use in rugby is common with many players taking illegal substances. Drug testing has become more common on the higher levels of the sport that hasn’t stopped many players from using steroids. Rugby players will often use undetectable substances or study when drugs will be flushed from their system allowing them to test drug-free.

As the game of rugby has turned into a billion dollar industry with players vying for professional contracts worth millions it would be naive to believe that there aren’t athletes who are looking for an advantage over their competition, legal or illegal. As steroids are highly effective at increasing a rugby player’s performance and are widely available many players take these drugs to fulfill their dreams of playing professional rugby and representing their country (the sports cars and mansions don’t hurt either). 

Why Do Rugby Players Use Steroids?

The main reason rugby players use steroids is to increase their muscle mass. Size is an important factor in rugby and steroids are very effective at building muscle. Steroids also help players recover from injuries and increase their energy and aggression levels. 

The average professional rugby back stands at 6 ft 1 and weighs 93kg. While the average professional rugby forward stands at 6 ft 2 and weighs 113kg. Rugby players are enormous men and weigh much more than the average man. A lot of that extra weight they hold is muscle. This extra muscle allows rugby players to generate huge amounts of force when they are running, tackling, cleaning out and scrummaging. A player with an insufficient amount of muscle will not have the strength and power to compete on the rugby field.

The issue is muscle is incredibly hard to develop. Even if players follow strict diets and put themselves through hellish workouts in the weightroom it still can be extremely difficult for players to develop the amount of muscle they need to be a professional player. This is why many rugby players use steroids. 

Steroids when combined with a strict diet and scientific training program cause rugby players to blow up in size. That talented player who wasn’t getting picked for the professional sides because he was undersized can quickly turn himself into one of the biggest players on the field after a few cycles of steroids and win himself a pro contract. The effectiveness of steroids to build is what makes them so alluring to rugby players.

What Steroids Do Rugby Players Use?

The most common form of steroid used by rugby players is Testosterone as it is widely available, cheap and effective at building muscle. Rugby players also use other anabolics such as Boldenone, Deca-Durabolin and Nandrolone, Anavar and Dianabol.

Rugby players are looking for drugs which are easily available and that can quickly increase their muscle mass while limiting their side effects and be flushed from their system quickly allowing them to pass drug tests.

This is why Testosterone Suspension is one of the most popular steroids used by rugby players. Testosterone is widely available, players can purchase pharmaceutical grade vials, its effects have been widely studied and it is highly effective in building muscle. Test suspension also has the added benefit of being cleared from your system within one week. However, the downside is you have to inject it daily whereas other steroids you can get away with injection only once or twice a week.

Rugby players who do not want to take injections or who are looking to create a synergy with their Testosterone dose will take an oral steroid. Anavar and Dianabol are two highly popular oral drugs. Anavar is a mild drug with little side effects however it can still produce significant muscle and strength gains which is perfect for rugby. 

What Rugby Players Have Been Banned For Using Steroids?

A number of professional rugby players have been banned for using steroids, these include Jarron Mullen (Newcastle Knights), Bronson Xerri (Cronulla Sharks), Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks) and Sandor Earl (Canberra Raiders).

Are Rugby Players Tested For Steroids?

Rugby players are tested for steroids, usually on professionals. However, how often and how strict these tests depends on the country. Ireland has very strict testing while Pacific Island countries such as Samoa and Tonga have little to no testing.

Irish legend Ronan O’Gara talks about how strict the testing of Irish players is, “from my time as a player, the testing was very thorough. It included in-season and off-season testing, the stringency increased every year. It got to the point where you had to fill out where you’d be from this week to the next and the following week. Every morning there would be an hour that you’d be available if the drug testers were to come to your house. You were subject to testing all year and the testers could arrive at your home any time they want, even on holidays.” O’Gara said he had to submit as many as 20 samples per season.

In Which Countries Is Steroid Use Common Among Rugby Players?

Welsh and South African rugby players have had a long history of steroid use. There is a culture among players and coaches that talented players who need some extra size should take steroids to increase their muscle mass. As steroids are easily attainable in both countries rugby players have had no issues accessing them. 

Currently there are 8 Welsh rugby players serving bans due to the consumption of performance enhancing drugs. They have been banned for using drugs such as Testosterone, Nandrolone, Trenbolone, Metandienone, boldenone. 

The prevalence of steroids in South African rugby particularly schoolboy rugby is shocking. A survey of more than 12,000 boys in 23 rugby-playing schools in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province in 2014 revealed that almost a tenth of 18-year-old boys had tried steroids. In South African rugby 5% of tested athletes failed tests. 

Dr Jon Patricios, a past president of the South African Sports Medicine Association and a former team doctor to the Cats and Golden Lions teams said he is regularly visited by concerned parents who find vials, syringes and bottles of mysterious pills hidden in their house by their rugby obsessed sons.

In 2012, Salmon van Huyssteen, a promising schoolboy rugby prospect confessed to having his parents inject him with Nandrolone in a bid to put on size. van Huyssteen’s bodybuilding cousin had sent him the drugs which had been collected by his parents who thought nothing of doing whatever it took to see their son reach the top of the rugby mountain.

 These stories are not uncommon in South African schoolboy rugby where principals, coaches and parents all turn a blind eye to steroid use in the highly competitive world of rugby where contracts can be worth millions and radically change the lives of players and their families.

South African rugby officials have claimed the problem is largely a schoolboy issue and does not creep into the professional ranks as professional players are subjected to regular testing throughout the year. However, it is difficult to believe that steroid abuse just magically stops. It is more likely that professional players are given help in passing tests and advice on what to use and when.


Steroid use is unfortunately very common in rugby as players are looking for any edge they can get to ensure they win professional contracts which are worth millions of dollars. The effectiveness of steroids in building muscle and the role that size and strength plays in rugby ensures that many players will always be tempted to use drugs especially when the potential rewards of money, fame and glory are so alluring.

It will always be a cat and mouse game between the cheaters and the testers and even though the testing in rugby is often stringent there are still many players who are slipping through the testers’ nets.

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