LONDON (AP) — The English Rugby Union says its anti-doping program works even though a Premiership player can go an entire season without being tested.
Figures for the 2016-17 season, published by the union on Thursday, revealed a total of 623 tests uncovered no violations within the professional game in England.
However, while England internationals are typically required to return samples eight to 12 times each in a season, that figure can drop to zero for a Premiership player.
"Some would be tested three times a season, but some would go a season without being tested," RFU anti-doping and illicit drugs program manager Stephen Watkins said.
"If a player did go a season without being tested, we'd flag it with UK Anti-Doping to make sure we pick those players up."
The ongoing absence of positive tests in English pro rugby has raised eyebrows - the only violation ever recorded was from a contaminated supplement in the 2010-11 season.
Watkins, however, insisted the system which also includes education, was fit for purpose.
"I speak to a lot of Premiership players and the testing is a deterrent because they simply don't know when the testers are coming in," Watkins said.
"This is not something we are overly concerned about. Since the 2004-05 season ... not a single professional player has failed a drugs test for performance-enhancing drugs. There is no systemic problem. But while we've done a high number of tests, we aren't complacent."
UKAD targets players more so out of competition than on matchdays. Priority is given to periods such as preseason when players are thought to be most likely to use performance-enhancing drugs in order to improve their conditioning and assist in recovery from injury.
The amount of testing in rugby compares unfavorably with some other English sports, but Watkins insisted the comparison was inaccurate.
"They don't start the season thinking, 'I want to target peak fitness come the Premiership final.' They have to play week on week," he said. "Our strategy is rugby specific."