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English Rugby
Stevens banned for two years
February 26, 2009
England prop Matt Stevens looks on during England training at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, June 11 2008
Matt Stevens has been banned from rugby for two years following a failed drugs test © Getty Images

Matt Stevens' rugby career lies in tatters after he received a two-year ban for failing a drugs test.

The England and Bath prop has been banned from all competition until January 18, 2011 in what was described as "the prescribed sanction" after his sample was found to contain metabolites of cocaine. Stevens, 26, will be unable to train or engage in any form of rugby activity during the course of his ban, meaning that he will struggle to maintain form and fitness.

Stevens has confirmed he will not be appealing the verdict and that he intends to return to rugby when he has served the ban.

A spokesperson for the player told PA Sport, "Today's hearing concluded that Matt Stevens is to be banned from all competitive rugby for two years, following a positive drug test. Matt has pleaded guilty and chosen not to appeal the decision and accepts full responsibility for his actions.

"He would like to again apologise to everyone that has been involved in his career at Bath and England, his team-mates and rugby fans for letting them down. He would also like to thank all those who have supported him through this time and intends to return to the game a better person and rugby player."

Bath have announced that they will hold an internal hearing with the player following the announcement in order to determine his future. Following Stevens' failed test he emotionally admitted a drug problem and was immediately removed from Martin Johnson's England squad to contest the 2009 Six Nations.

Bath chief executive Bob Calleja explained the club would seek to hold talks with Stevens as soon as possible. "As far as the club is concerned we have to follow due process, which we have done," 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'm hoping to speak to him as soon as possible, as soon as he returns from Glasgow (where the ERC hearing was held), and continue the dialogue now that we know what the conclusion is."

Calleja also acknowledged the length of the ban was to be expected. He said, "It doesn't come as a particular surprise, looking at the precedents that have been set."

Stevens' 'A' sample tested positive and while he declined the opportunity to have his 'B' sample tested, he requested that his case be heard by a judicial committee to determine whether an anti-doping violation had occurred. The committee, chaired by Rod McKenzie (Scotland) and also comprised Professor Stewart Hillis MB FRCP FRCS (Scotland) and Gareth Williams (Wales) determined that a violation had occurred and handed down a two year ban to the prop.

"After considering the evidence, and in light of Mr Stevens' admissions, the Committee determined that an anti-doping rule violation had occurred in that the player's sample had contained benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine, which are metabolites of cocaine," read an ERC statement.

"Cocaine is a stimulant and is a Prohibited Substance for the purposes of in-competition testing under the 2008/09 Heineken Cup Anti-Doping Programme and under IRB Regulation 21 and WADA's World Anti-Doping Code. This was Mr Stevens' first anti-doping rule violation and the Judicial Committee accordingly imposed the prescribed sanction of a two-year period of ineligibility from all rugby playing and rugby related activities dated from 19 January, 2009, up to and including 18 January, 2011."

England boss Johnson insisted Stevens had his support but issued a warning to every elite player, saying, "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."

The Professioanl Rugby Players' Association backed the decision to suspend Stevens with chief executive Damian Hopley commenting, "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. Knowing Matt's optimistic outlook, I have no doubt that he will conquer his illness in due course, and make a successful return to the game."

In a statement, the Rugby Football Union condemned the use or distribution of prohibited substances or methods as defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List.

The RFU operates a robust in and out of competition testing programme conducted and co-ordinated by UK Sport in compliance with the WADA International Standard for Testing. Since adopting the WADA Code in season 2004-5 there have been over 1700 in and out of competition tests on rugby players in England across all levels. In those four-and-a-half seasons there have been 14 Anti-Doping Rule Violations or "positive tests". This is an average of less than three doping violations per season.

Under the RFU and International Rugby Board Anti-Doping Regulation 21 any player may be tested anytime, anywhere. Players may be selected to provide a sample at random or be subject to target testing without prior notice, at matches, squad training sessions or as part of an individual out of competition testing programme.

The RFU invests considerable time, effort and money in the fight against doping and one of its Strategic Plan objectives is to become a world leader in this field. The RFU is the only Union of the IRB to have a full time Anti-Doping Officer. Gavin Dovey joined the RFU from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) in December 2006.

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