Stevens banned for two years

Thu, Feb 26, 2009, 00:00

England and Bath prop Matt Stevens has been banned for two years by the ERC for failing a drugs test.

Stevens tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine, after supplying a sample after round four of the Heineken European Cup match against Glasgow Warriors at the Firhill Arena on December 14th, 2008.

Stevens was provisionally suspended on January 19th and, after waiving the right to have the ‘B’ sample tested and requesting the case go to judicial committee, he was today banned from all rugby related activities for two years from the initial suspension.

The committee was chaired by Rod McKenzie (Scotland) and included Professor Stewart Hillis MB FRCP FRCS (Scotland) and Gareth Williams (Wales).

The South African-born prop has 32 caps for England but was removed from Martin Johnson’s Six Nations squad after his suspension in January.

Johnson tonight said: "I have said all through this episode that there is no place in sport or society for illegal drug use.

"Matt chose to take a banned substance and will now have to accept the consequences. He will not be involved in rugby for two years and for a professional sportsman that will be a very tough experience.

"Matt has admitted that he has a problem and is seeking help. We support him in that but all rugby players must understand that they are responsible for their actions, and that includes lifestyle choices."

Stevens's future with Bath is also in jeopardy now. He still has three years of a lucrative club contract remaining but he is facing the possibility of dismissal.

The west country club will not be rushed into making a decision, and they plan what they call “an internal hearing” with the prop.

In a statement, Bath said: “Following Matt Stevens’s appearance before an independent judicial committee in Glasgow today, and the conclusion of a two-year ineligibility from all rugby playing and rugby-related activities, Bath Rugby have followed all due processes and will be holding an internal hearing with Matt before making any further statement on this matter.”

The Guinness Premiership title contenders would appear to be facing a simple choice - stand by Stevens, or ditch his services.

Given that he cannot play though, or take part in any rugby-related activities, the odds must be stacked against him being retained at the Recreation Ground.

He is also thought to be among the club’s highest earners.

“As far as the club are concerned we have to follow due process, which we have done,” Bath chief executive Bob Calleja told Sky Sports News.

“We will now hold our own internal meeting with Matt and make a statement after we’ve done that.

“I am hoping to speak to him as soon as possible, as soon as he returns from Glasgow, and continue the dialogue now that we know what the conclusion is.”

Calleja acknowledged the length of suspension was to be expected.

He added: “It doesn’t come as a particular surprise, looking at the precedents that have been set.”

The Professional Rugby Players’ Association tonight issued a statement in support of Stevens’s two-year ban.

Damian Hopley, the players’ union chief executive, said: “Matt has paid a very heavy price by losing two prime years of his career and today’s news serves as the ultimate deterrent to any players who find themselves exposed to any banned substances.

“Whilst strongly reaffirming the PRA’s condemnation of the use of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, we will continue to do everything we can to provide Matt with the support he needs during his rehabilitation period."