Supplement taking in Irish schools rugby: We talk to a player and a coach


For people like this writer, who played schools rugby in the dreary 1980s, the modern day Irish schools rugby player is a terrifying sight. While we whinged and moaned our way through cold, wet November nights on terrible fields, poorly conditioned and lacking basic nutritional knowledge, the modern player is fast, fit, and absolutely huge! We were skinny guys, often talented, sure, but absolutely tiny compared to the kids the major rugby factories (schools) are churning out these days.

When those of us who played back in the stone ages gather, we often gripe about the sheer size of these kids and their Justin Bieber haircuts. The conversation invariably leads to supplements such as Creatine. The Moe Sizlack mentality sets in and we whip ourselves into a frenzy and gather pitchforks and torches ready to storm Dublin’s major rugby schools and demand their kids stop taking supplements and steroids.

That sentiment has been played out in great drama and with much bluster over the last couple of years by some major news publications.

The truth is, yes, kids in Ireland’s schools are taking supplements like Creatine, and they are often doing this behind the school’s backs. Regardless, the fact is, the kids appear to be policing themselves somewhat, and managing to stay out of harm and or trouble. It would appear that supplement taking is not as prevalent as some papers would have you believe, and even when it is happening, it’s happening in small doses and in conjunction with focussed, disciplined work out and weight lifting programs.

There appear to be a number of opinions set firmly on the topic.

The general public and the media at large are basically screaming that young Irish kids are obviously taking buckets of supplements and steroids, as evidenced by their increased size and (seriously) outbursts of pimples. The schools are basically saying that not only do none of their kids take these supplements, but also that they are going to great lengths to ban them. Meanwhile the Irish workout/lifting community are incensed that anyone would suggest that there’s anything wrong with supplement taking.

Interestingly, adults who partake in the supplement style of body-building bristle aggressively at any suggestion that supplements such as Creatine are in any way dangerous. Take a look at any number of online forums where (largely) Irish male Creatine and other supplement users aggressively scoff at the suggestion that taking supplements can be dangerous for you.

What these individuals are missing is that the effects of supplements like these on young bones and young internal systems can be catastrophic in comparison with the effects they have on well developed adults.

However, as with those who are crying out that supplements are taking over our schools, the adult lifters' opinions are aggressive and, possibly, falling outside the reasonable middle ground. Whichever side you are on, opinions are varied and strong.

To date there is barely anything in the media in terms of the student body and their opinion on the topic, so we took the time to talk to two of them, one a recent student at a big South Dublin school, the other a current strength and conditioning coach at a big Dublin rugby school. Obviously we changed their names to protect their identity.

Ben is a former player from a big rugby powerhouse school, Jerry is a strength and conditioning coach

Ben, when you were playing schools rugby, did you take anything in terms of supplements?

Ben: I took a protein shake after the gym and when I was in 5th year I dabbled with Creatine. We had a really strong team in 5th year and I need to be able to match up with them physically to push for a place. But to be honest, my school was very strict on supplements. You would be banned from the gym if you were caught with it. Other schools take a very relaxed policy on them though. Like when I was in 6th year, it was known that a load of guys from a smaller school (who did very well that year) were on roids.

Did your school actually take action against anyone taking a supplement? Do you think the majority who did it got away with it? What percentage of your squad was using supplements? Was anyone on anything stronger?

Ben: One fella was barred yeah and got whatever he was taking confiscated. No one was on steroids. In terms of protein and Creatine, it varies from year to year. When I was in 5th year a good few of the 6th years were on Creatine. Whereas, when I was in 6th not many of us were.

With Creatine, if the school expressly frowned on it, how did you find out about it, word of mouth? Did kids talk about it, were you all aware you were taking it or trying it? Seeing the size of some of these kids, it must have been obvious, right?

Ben: Ah the word gets around. From other guys in other schools and fitness magazines etc. it's hard to miss it. When we would talk about it, it would generally start with some player from whichever school is "big" and he's taking it. No one ever announced to the group that they were taking it nor was it secretive Not necessarily, Creatine would have very little impact on kids that age. People under 18 will get bigger, stronger and faster when exposed to good strength and conditioning programs and in the majority of these schools, they are. Hence their size. You can't put Creatine alone down to someone being 5 or 10kg bigger. Kids will get bigger and especially with their exposure to lifting