Stevens poised for England return
June 19, 2011
Stevens is set to complete his comeback from a drugs ban with a recall to the latest England squad © Getty Images
Matt Stevens is set to take the next step in his remarkable comeback from a two-year drugs ban by being named in England's World Cup training squad on Monday.
The 28-year-old Durban-born prop, capped 32 times by his adopted country, only returned to the game in January having completed a lengthy suspension for cocaine use. But he has not been on a losing team since, either for newly-crowned Aviva Premiership champions Saracens or at representative level with England Saxons, and a return to top form means a senior squad recall now beckons.
"Because I've played for England before, I know exactly the honour and esteem that goes with it," he said, following Saxons' 37-6 Churchill Cup Final victory over Canada, watched by England coaches John Wells, Graham Rowntree and Brian Smith. "I am very keen. I will work as hard as I can and see what happens.
"It has been a tough five months, but it is just week on week for me now. 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."
Stevens relished the Saxons environment, and he will be the headline promotion by senior boss Martin Johnson from a squad that racked up 165 points and 23 tries in three games on their way to sixth victory in the competition. "Week on week, we have improved as a group of players," added the 28-year-old. "I think there are definitely a lot of (Saxons) players who have put their hands up for selection in the future. When we got into that changing room (yesterday) we were really energetic and bouncy to go out there and win the game convincingly."
Saxons head coach Stuart Lancaster, meanwhile, has no doubt about the impact Stevens made on a team that benefited enormously from his immense scrummaging power and work in the loose. "From my point of view, Matt has been outstanding," said Lancaster. "He came in, added an experienced voice and played three lots of 80 minutes on the bounce in the 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."
Johnson's squad of 45 will include all the familiar faces responsible for England's Six Nations title triumph earlier this year. But there are likely to be some interesting additions, with the so-called foreign legion possibly out in force.
Leicester's Samoa-born centre Manu Tuilagi, who completes a suspension next Thursday for punching Northampton and England wing Chris Ashton during a feisty Premiership play-off clash at Welford Road in May, is another expected to get the call from Johnson. Tuilagi's Tigers team-mate Thomas Waldrom, born in New Zealand but who has an English grandmother, is another strong contender, along with two of Saracens' South Africa-born contingent - centre Brad Barritt and lock Mouritz Botha.
Ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, who led Saracens to title glory just three weeks ago, is another tipped for a call-up despite not having featured for England since last year's Six Nations, having initially had a knee injury and then being omitted from the elite player squad announced by Johnson in July.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures
"Our scrums and lineouts are sometimes not that good but our men are very brave." Ken Borland finds that rugby is on the rise in Senegal