Stevens desperate for RWC spot
July 20, 2011
Stevens excelled during the Churchill Cup and nopw faces the task of forcing his way into Martin Johnson's England squad © Getty Images
Matt Stevens is delighted to be back in the England mix but has his eyes firmly set on making Martin Johnson's final 30-man squad for the World Cup.
The 28-year-old prop won the last of his 32 Test caps in November 2008 - his international career derailed by a two-year drugs ban. But thanks to an impressive run of form with Premiership-winning Saracens and the England Saxons he is now in line for a return to the Test stage. He took a step nearer the World Cup by earning a place in Johnson's 45-man training group last month and is determined to complete a remarkable return by claiming a place on the plane to New Zealand.
"First and foremost, I'm glad to be back in the party and back with the guys alongside whom I have played so much rugby in the past," Stevens told The Daily Telegraph. "To spend two years away from the game you love playing is difficult. However, I'm not going to settle for this. I want to earn a place at the World Cup and prove that I still have a great deal to offer.
"The training schedule has been particularly tough over the past few days and it's going to get even tougher. It's quite clear from what I've seen this week, that the coaches are stepping up the training in preparation for the warm-up games next month. I think the good thing at present is that the coaches have made it clear that every position is up for grabs."
Stevens has already pulled on the red rose jersey this summer during the Churchill Cup where he played every minute of the England Saxons' campaign. Now Stevens faces a challenge to claim a place in the England front-row. Dan Cole, Andrew Sheridan and Alex Corbisiero all shone during the 2011 Six Nations but the Durban-born prop has earmarked the Tests against Wales as an opportunity to show the England backroom staff just what they have missed.
"There are no guarantees," Stevens said. "It's up to the players to push themselves into the frame and make sure that when the plane leaves, they're on it. I think the warm-up games will be key and, to be honest, we have already started speaking about Wales in terms of our training patterns."
While England's opponents on August 6 Wales are away in Poland undergoing an intense boot camp, Stevens and co are being fine-tuned for the World Cup in a slightly different way. Their current routine consists of four days intense training then three at home. For Stevens, he sees both aspects as integral in the run up to the World Cup.
"It's good but it's tough and I know I speak for the entire squad when I say that having three days off at the end of the week, to spend at home with the family, is vital.
"I've enjoyed both sides. I've enjoyed the competition, which I have to say is particularly fierce at times, and I've enjoyed going home and spending quality time with the family. It allows us to recharge the batteries. Believe me, when the coaches have finished with us, after four days, we are ready for a break."
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