Stevens given World Cup hope by Saxons call-up

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The Independent Online

Prop forwards generally move in pedestrian ways, their wonders to perform, but Matt Stevens has a reputation for doing things differently. His re-emergence as an international-class tight forward – the first stage of his career ended abruptly when his "recreational" dabblings with cocaine turned into a serious habit – continued at a sprinter's pace yesterday when he was named in the second-string England Saxons squad for the annual Churchill Cup tournament, which begins this weekend.

He must now be regarded as a live contender for World Cup selection. The South African-born scrummager is only a few weeks into his comeback with Saracens, and as recently as February, he would have been grateful for a few run-ons with the first team. As it turned out, he cemented his place in the starting line-up almost immediately and helped the club to a first English championship title at Twickenham on Saturday.

Assuming he avoids injury while showing some half-decent form against the likes of Tonga and the United States over the next fortnight or so, he will be very much in the thoughts of the England manager Martin Johnson ahead of September's global gathering in All Black country.

Stevens joins five other props – Alex Corbisiero, Andrew Sheridan, Dan Cole, Paul Doran-Jones and David Wilson – in contesting four places in the World Cup party, and his ability to perform at a high level on both sides of the scrum gives him every chance of making the cut.

Almost two-and-a-half years after news of the drugs scandal first broke, Johnson remains reluctant to forgive and forget. All the same, the thought of leaving a fit-and-firing Stevens behind is likely to prove even less attractive.

Two of the prop's fellow Saracens, the full-back Alex Goode and the lock Mouritz Botha – a 29-year-old late developer from Zululand who qualifies for England on residency grounds – are included in the Saxons party.

Those left out include the Bath back Nick Abendanon and the Northampton flanker Phil Dowson, who appear destined to miss out on the forthcoming World Cup training camp as well. They have been advised to rest up ahead of next season.

Brad Barritt, the Saracens centre, and Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins back-rower, are also off the Saxons' roster, but their absences indicate that Johnson has already decided to include them in his 41-man preliminary squad, due to be named in three weeks' time.

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