Stevens hopes to call tune against Ireland

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The Independent Online

Rugby comes first for Matt Stevens. Not even the chance to perform with the Three Tenors - Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo - in the Bath Pump Rooms last year, could distract him from his chosen profession.

Members of the Bath Choral Society, who had heard Stevens singing, had approached him to see if he would join them as the backing chorus for the singing extravaganza, but the South Africa-born tight-head prop said: "Unfortunately we had a training camp that clashed with it so I couldn't accept the invitation. I would have loved to."

But he needed no second bidding when called up by England for his third cap and his first start for his adopted country - his father, Russell, is English. Nor indeed did the England coach, Andy Robinson, have any hesitation in selecting the relatively raw recruit. Stevens, 22, has made 10 starts for Bath and come on a further 43 times as a replacement and not always at tight-head prop.

Robinson did what Bath have avoided, in the main, that is pick Stevens in the specialist, tricky tight-head position in preference to club-mate Duncan Bell, exactly eight years his senior and vastly more experienced.

"Matt has been involved with us for the last year," explained Robinson. "He has been playing very well and is therefore familiar with our systems, and our line-out calls." As far as Stevens is concerned any apprehension he might feel is good. "Of course anyone who has two caps will be somewhat anxious about going into their third game, however, I think it is a good thing, because it puts you on your toes."

The Bath head coach, John Connolly, has no fears for him. "Technically Matty is a world-class player," said the widely travelled Australian. "He is one of those rare players - France's Sylvain Marconnet is another - who is just as comfortable either side of the front row. And he is a New Age prop, he is mobile - his runs in a match are always in double figures, whereas in the 1991 World Cup final a prop such as Jeff Probyn would have run maybe three yards. And Matty is good with the ball in hand."

Physically he is quite a size, a shade over 6ft and an athletic 18st 2lb. His head is large as well, not through immodesty. There is a large brain in there, one that has interests outside the game. The singing is one aspect - he has had formal training as a tenor - but he also plays the guitar along with Brendon Daniel and according to Bath players the pair of them provide polished entertainment on trips.

"My musical tastes go right across the board. I studied music at school and I play a bit of rock on the guitar." Whether he will be able to call the tune against Reggie Corrigan, the Ireland loose-head, is debatable. But it is probably worth placing a tenner on the tenor that he will not let his side down.