I've thrown away my career, says England rugby star 'caught taking cocaine'

The career of England rugby star Matt Stevens is in turmoil after he admitted he was battling a problem with drugs.

After failing a routine drugs test, the 26-year-old prop forward, who thrilled millions of TV viewers with his performances on The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, said he had ‘thrown away’ his career.

Traces of a recreational drug - understood to be cocaine - were found in samples taken last month from the man seen as a possible cornerstone of the new England team.

My shame: Matt Stevens breaks down as he admits taking drugs

My shame: Matt Stevens breaks down as he admits taking drugs

‘I was tested for a prohibited substance but it’s not performance enhancing, so you can take what you want from that,’ he said yesterday on TV as news of the positive test leaked out.

‘It’s pretty distressing talking about this. When you think about how much time people have put into my career and I have thrown it away.’

Stevens, who plays for Bath, was immediately suspended from all competitions and dropped from the England squad preparing for the Six Nations Championships.

Despite winning more than 30 caps for England, it was in the celebrity version of the X Factor in 2006 that Stevens became known to a wider audience when, mentored by Sharon Osbourne, he reached the final before losing narrowly to Lucy Benjamin, of EastEnders.

His performances on the show – hosted by Kate Thornton – raised more than £125,000 for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and in recognition of his fundraising, he met the former South African president in Johannesburg.

Stevens raised £125,000 for Nelson Mandela's Children's fund when he appeared on X Factor: Battle Of The Stars in 2006

The following year he released a version of The Gambler, the song made famous by Kenny Rogers, with the proceeds again going to the Mandela Fund and to the NSPCC.

Stevens, a politics and economics graduate from the University of Bath who is thought to earn £150,000 a year, did not say when he had first used the drug but admitted he had taken it regularly.

Matt Stevens

South African-born Stevens plays for England and had been included in the Six Nations squad

‘It started off with just a couple of nights where you take it after a big night out with your friends,’ he said.

‘It wasn’t a big deal – that’s the problem with drugs, it so quickly becomes a big deal. I owe it to everyone to admit that. I want to say I’m truly very sorry. I want to change my life and hopefully one day get the faith back that people had in me.’

The positive test was taken after a Heineken Cup match for Bath against Glasgow Warriors in December and confirmed this week after a second sample taken at the same time was tested.

The South African-born player, who made his debut for England in 2003, was tipped to be a key member of the British and Irish Lions touring party to the country of his birth later this year.

He qualified to play for England because of an English father and grandfather.

Damian Hopley, of the Professional Rugby Players’ Association, spoke of the surprise felt by the sport where Stevens had cultivated a clean-cut image.

‘We are shocked by this news, which is very out of character for Matt,’ he said.

‘He had built a reputation as a fine ambassador for the game, who does a tremendous amount of voluntary work for a number of charities and good causes.

‘We will be doing everything we can to provide Matt with the support he needs at this very difficult time.’

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