The RFU has been forced to defend its anti-doping strategy after admitting it cannot guarantee that every Premiership player is drug-tested at least once a season.
The union also revealed four players in the elite league tested positive for cocaine during the 2017-18 campaign as it published its anti-doping and illicit drugs programme report on Tuesday.
There were 739 anti-doping tests on players in the top two divisions of the men’s game and the top division of the women’s game last season.
As with previous seasons, this means that every player in the Premiership may not have been tested at least once because there are nearly 500 players in the league — with another 150 in top-flight academies — and several are tested multiple times.
The RFU’s director of medical services, Dr Simon Kemp, said: ‘No programme would have a hard-and-fast minimum number of tests.’
Nearly two thirds of the tests were carried out by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), with World Rugby doing most of the rest and European Professional Club Rugby and the Six Nations also contributing.
There were just two doping violations. Wasps forward Ashley Johnson was banned for six months for using a contaminated supplement, while Brandon Staples of Yorkshire Carnegie received a four-year suspension for use of steroids.
UKAD’s deputy director of operations, Hamish Coffey, said: ‘The programme was comprehensive and has been further improved through UKAD’s increased testing investment, so it is still one of the most comprehensive programmes. But testing is not just about numbers; it is about the quality of those tests.’
In addition to the anti-doping system, the RFU carried out 332 tests as part of its illicit drugs programme, with four players testing positive for cocaine after becoming ‘dislocated’ from their clubs through injury or not being selected. All the cases also involved the use of alcohol.
As first-time offenders, the players’ identities have been protected, but they were fined and received psychiatric counselling.
Dr Kemp said: ‘We are confident that this level of testing, which is over and above what we are required to do under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, protects the reputation and integrity of the game.
‘These positives are not from players who typically play and train every week.’