The only two English representative players to have been through the drugs ban faced by Matt Stevens predict troubled times for the shamed Bath prop. If the positive test admitted by Stevens was for cocaine, he faces a two-year suspension from any normal contact with the game he loved and played for a living. He will be unable to train with a team or even walk into the local junior club in whatever country he finds himself in.
"Even being your normal character changes," said Adam Dean, who was an England Under-18 flanker when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 2005. "I used to be the one who was loud at training and said, 'Give me the ball and I'll smash into them'. After the ban I was very much the opposite. I don't know Matt, but I can imagine him being depressed and very down. The everyday routine of getting up and doing what he used to do is out of the window. It's his job, and he may as well have been fired, but it's not just that. A ban from rugby is like being pushed out of a family."
Martin Johnson, the England manager, and Michael Lipman, the Bath captain, have expressed a measure of support for Stevens but Dean – who joined the Royal Navy when his thoughts of a rugby contract with Sale or Newcastle evaporated – has felt the effect of a complete break. "Matt's team-mates might be saying the right things now, but I can guarantee they'll forget him," he said. "In two years' time, none of them will have called him. Life moves on, two years is a bloody long time and he won't even feel like training with them."
Jason Keyter played professionally for Bristol, Harlequins, England A (in 1995) and the USA, but was winding down as a 31-year-old amateur with Esher when he tested positive for cocaine in 2005. Like Dean, he protested he had taken the drug unwittingly but, despite the Rugby Football Union recommending a one-year ban, both men were given two years by a higher authority – in Keyter's case the Court of Arbitration for Sport; in Dean's the International Rugby Board.
Some reports have cited new IRB regulations as allowing a shorter ban for some substances, but cocaine's status as a prohibited stimulant "in competition" is unchanged,as is the recommended suspension. Furthermore, Stevens' test in December makes himsubject to the pre-1 January relegations.
"If Matt gets a ban, he can't go training with his team-mates in a professional environment and I think that is disgracefully unfair," said Keyter, now 35 and recently retired from playing after he returned to the field with Newquay Hornets in November 2007. He threw in his job as a head-hunter in Londonfor a new life in Cornwall, developing holiday properties.
"He can keep fit, but it's the knocks, the contact, the reading of the game that make you a player. It's not the end of him but he'd be back at 28 and far less invincible than he is at 26." The single rugby activity permitted under a ban is "auth-orised anti-doping education or rehabilitation programmes".
Keyter urged that Stevens be given a reduced sentence and "made to jump through some serious hoops" to assist himself and others. "The bottom line is something good needs to come out of it and history predicts that nothing good will come out of a two-year ban."
A measure of Dean, now 23, is that he is 12 hours' flying time from gaining his wings as a fixed-wing jet pilot. He has played rugby for the Navy at Twickenham but could not face rejoining a club – in any sport. "I was asked to play in Lincoln and York, but I could not get back into the team mentality. York basketball team asked me along and I said no. When you've been told you can't walk into a rugby club – a thing you've been doing from five – you just don't want to go back there."Reuse content