Lancaster heaps praise on Stevens
June 18, 2011
Stevens has been linked with a promotion back to the England senior squad for this year's World Cup © Getty Images
England Saxons head coach Stuart Lancaster has hailed the impact of prop Matt Stevens on his team's successful Churchill Cup campaign.
Stevens looks set to continue his impressive comeback from a two-year drugs ban by clinching a place in England's senior World Cup training squad on Monday. And Lancaster highlighted the Saracens prop's contribution after the Saxons secured silverware with a 37-6 victory over Canada at Worcester.
"From my point of view, Matt has been outstanding," said Lancaster. "He has come in, added an experienced voice and played three lots of 80 minutes on the bounce in this tournament. He has been great off the field, and on the field he has delivered for me and the other coaches. It's a tick for me in the box."
Stevens, who returned to action in January this year and has yet to feature on a losing side at club or representative level, added: "Week on week, we have improved as a group of players. I think there are definitely a lot of (Saxons) players who have put their hands up for selection in the future.
"What I've said to myself throughout this whole tournament has been about performance, and I am happy with the way I have performed. There is a lot of room for improvement, I know that, but I am happy with the way things are going. Saracens has been the best choice of club I could have made.
"Obviously, I am going to say that - we've just won a Premiership final - but there is a reason why teams win finals, and that's culture. We are trying to create that culture at Saracens. We are not there yet, but we are definitely on the right road."
After posting 128 points in their opening two games against the United States and Tonga, England's second string were expected to enjoy another try spree. And the Saxons never seriously found themselves threatened by a spirited - if limited - Canadian outfit.
Flanker James Gaskell and wing Miles Benjamin set England on their way with early tries as they claimed a sixth and last Churchill Cup triumph during its nine-season existence. With Canada and the United States now included in the International Rugby Board's tournaments and tour schedule, it means they will play home Tests during June against top Test nations from next summer.
The decision to end a Churchill Cup agreement that began with the inaugural competition in 2003 was taken jointly by the Rugby Football Union, USA Rugby and Rugby Canada, in consultation with the IRB. The Saxons, 15-6 ahead at half-time, then pulled away after the break through Benjamin's second try and scores from his fellow wing Charlie Sharples and substitute lock Jamie Gibson, while Rory Clegg kicked 12 points.
Lancaster said: "It is objective achieved, and alongside that to give some lads an opportunity for further development and try to push some forward - short-term for the World Cup training squad, but also the long-term. We need to continue to create development opportunities for players to play for England.
"We need to bridge the gap between Premiership rugby and international rugby and also give players an opportunity to come out of their club sides and work with different coaches and different players."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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