Stevens takes step towards England WC team

by staff

Matt Stevens took another step on his long road back from a two-year drugs ban on Monday after being named in England's preliminary training squad for the World Cup in New Zealand.

The 28-year-old Saracens prop, who only returned to rugby in January after serving his lengthy suspension for testing positive for cocaine in 2009, was among the most notable names in manager Martin Johnson's 45-strong group.

South African-born Stevens won the last of his 32 England caps in November 2008 before his failed drugs test left his promising career in tatters.

However the powerful front-rower has enjoyed a successful return to rugby this season, and remarkably has not been on a losing team either for champions Saracens or for the England Saxons representative side.

Stevens was outstanding in the Saxons recent Churchill Cup campaign, which concluded with a 37-6 victory over Canada at the weekend, and now seems to be firmly in the frame for a final place in Johnson's World Cup squad.

Other notable inclusions in the squad released on Monday include Leicester's 20-year-old Samoan-born centre Manu Tuilagi.

Tuilagi's five elder brothers have all played international rugby for Samoa, but the Leicester youngster opted to play for England after moving to the country as a schoolboy.

Tuilagi's inclusion gives Johnson a wider range of options at centre, where the existing partnership of Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall was criticised this season for a perceived lack of creativity.

Tuilagi earns his call-up despite recently serving a five-week ban for a brutal series of punches on his new England team-mate Chris Ashton during Leicester's Premiership semi-final against Northampton.


Forwards: Mouritz Botha (Saracens), George Chuter, Dan Cole (both Leicester Tigers), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Tom Croft, Louis Deacon (both Leicester Tigers), Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Nick Easter (Harlequins), Hendre Fourie (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (unattached), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Lee Mears, Lewis Moody (both Bath), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tim Payne (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks), Matt Stevens (Saracens), Steve Thompson (Wasps), Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), David Wilson (Bath), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Joe Worsley (London Wasps)

Backs: Delon Armitage (London Irish), Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Matt Banahan (Bath), Danny Care (Harlequins), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Riki Flutey (London Wasps), Ben Foden (Northampton Saints), Shontayne Hape (Bath), Charlie Hodgson (Saracens), Ugo Monye (Harlequins), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), Joe Simpson (Wasps), James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), David Strettle (Saracens), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)