Saturday, 28 November 2020

I’m so gutted, says Hawks star

A HENLEY Rugby Club player says he is gutted after being banned for six months for failing a drugs test.

A HENLEY Rugby Club player says he is gutted after being banned for six months for failing a drugs test.

Fly-half James Comben tested positive for methylhexaneamine following a match for Wasps ‘A’ against Exeter Braves on November 26.

The first team player admitted he had taken a product to help him lose weight so he could start a modelling career but claimed he was unaware of what it contained.

Last Friday, the Rugby Football Union decided not to impose the minimum two-year ban on Comben, saying it did not believe he had been trying to improve his performance on the pitch.

Comben, 24, said he was disappointed to miss the Hawks’ title run-in due to his “vanity”.

He told the Standard: “I wanted to lose a bit of extra weight as there was the potential to model for Jack Wills. I wanted to get the six-pack and the look.

“I have worked in the store in Marlow as a shop assistant for two-and-a-half years. Others have gone on to do bits and bobs of modelling and some said that I fitted the bill and should have a go.”

Comben says he was recommended Oxylean 1-3D as a good fat burner by a man who had done some modelling and looked in “very good shape” .

He bought one tin of 90 capsules for £30 online and took one up to four times a week for a month leading up to the match with Wasps, for whom he also plays.

Comben said: “I took it occasionally during the weeks leading up to the game but I didn’t know there was anything sinister in it.

“On the day of the game I had taken one of the pills at 8am and found out at midday that I was playing. I was to start on the bench but someone picked up a knock in the warm-up so I was promoted and I played at full-back.

“I played for 60 to 65 minutes before coming off and at the final whistle we went back into the changing room and I was asked to provide a urine sample.”

He said his number was randomly selected for the drugs test.

Comben had to declare any medication that he had taken and says he thought that didn’t include supplements, so he only put down his medication for colitis.

He said: “Taking the test made me interested in the whole process — I had never seen a doping officer before — so I did some research at home on the supplements I was taking.

“This included the creatine and normal whey protein shakes, which are all perfectly legal, but then I found that something in the Oxylean was a banned substance.”

He said that MHA, a stimulant which is described as pre- workout supplement that is slightly stronger than coffee, was not on the list of ingredients on the tin. “It had all the ingredients on it apart from the banned one,” he said. “Nothing jumped out and stood out in my mind. It is so easy to make a mistake like that.”

Comben called Hawks’ head coach Nigel Dudding the next day to say that he could have taken a banned substance.

He recalled: “I met up with him in Henley and he said that the best thing to do was to declare it because I hadn’t on the form. I made sure that it was added and then nothing happened for four weeks.”

He stopped taking the pills and played in the next three games for the Hawks before being told by the RFU that he was accused of a doping offence.

Comben said: “When the email came I was absolutely gutted. I was then provisionally suspended pending the outcome of the hearing.”

He attended a hearing in London in February accompanied by Mike Poulson, Henley Rugby Club’s director of rugby, and Chris Lloyd, from London Wasps.

Daniel Saoul, who represented the player, told the hearing that Comben had not known he had taken a banned substance and not sought to gain any advantage.

He urged the RFU panel to sanction him on the basis that he should have known better.

Mr Saoul referred to a series of cases involving MHA where sanctions varied between six weeks and six months and suggested that the player should be banned for no longer than three months.

The panel, which comprised Judge Jeff Blackett, Christopher Quinlan QC and Dr Julian Morris, said the fact that Comben did not know he was taking MHA was not a defence.

It said the RFU was “comfortably satisfied” that the player did not use the drug to enhance his performance because he was not seeking a professional contract with the Wasps Academy and that he had taken the pills when he did not expect to play.

The panel said the six-month ban was because Comben failed to carry out sufficient research into the ingredients of Oxylean, failed to check with medical staff if he could use it and failed to tell the doping officer that he had taken the drug.

Comben said he felt “a bit hard done by” and added: “I was a bit naive. Now I wouldn’t take anything without researching it thoroughly. I would go to the doctor and ask. There has been a huge amount of learning for me through this process.

“I would really stress to all athletes that extreme caution needs to be taken even with innocent-looking products. This could happen to anyone — it was just unlucky that it happened to me. Regrettably, naivety or lack of awareness is no defence in these situations.

“I feel gutted that I have not been around at the club for the second half of the season and wish the boys the best of luck for the last few games.”

Comben, who lives in Marlow, joined the colts at Henley when he was 17 and spent his second year as team captain.

He is currently recovering from an operation on his right shoulder to repair a joint injury and, having been out of the game for four months, will be available to play again on June 21.

Comben, who was the Hawks’ young player of the year in 2011 and is currently the sixth best point scorer in the league, said his team-mates had been supportive.

Mr Poulson said: “First and foremost, we want to reiterate our total support as a club for the RFU’s stand and all its actions to eradicate prohibitive substance violations from our sport. We totally accept and support the judgement of the panel and the sanctions imposed.

“At the same time, James has been at our club from a junior to being a significant member of the current Hawks squad.

“We have, and will, give him and his family our full support during this difficult time and welcome him back into our fold with big lessons learned when his suspension is complete.”

The Hawks are currently second in National League 2 South, having already secured a play-off place. They face Shelford away on Saturday before their final game at home to league leaders Worthing on May 4.ly.

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