England prop Matt Stevens faces two-year ban after testing positive for cocaine

Matt Stevens

Matt Stevens has failed a drugs test and could face a two year ban

England prop Matt Stevens has failed a drug test after traces of cocaine were found in his system - putting him in danger of receiving a two-year ban which could leave his career in ruins.

The 26-year-old has been suspended by Bath, who were last night coming to terms with a situation which threatens to derail their preparations for Sunday's Heineken Cup Pool Five decider against Toulouse at The Rec.

He has been at the heart of Bath's renaissance under coach Steve Meehan, as a tighthead who is equally comfortable on the other side of the front row, or as an effective ball-carrier in open play.

He has amassed 32 Test caps to date as Phil Vickery's perennial challenger for the England No 3 shirt.

This news will come as a major setback for Martin Johnson with the RBS Six Nations looming large at the start of February.

If Stevens is ultimately found guilty he will face a two year ban from the sport for a first such offence, which would force the England manager to delve into the Saxons squad for a replacement tighthead - increasing the prospects of Leicester veteran Julian White being recalled to the senior ranks at the age of 35.

There was precedent back in 2006 when Australia wing Wendell Sailor was banned for two years for cocaine use.

Stevens was born in Durban, South Africa and moved to England to study at Bath University.

Matt Stevens

Matt Stevens in action for England against Italy in the 2006 Six Nations Championship

Yet, having an English father and grandfather, he qualified for Red Rose selection, which duly came in December, 2003, in a non-cap match against the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham.

Matt Stevens

Stevens in good spirits as the England squad return to Heathrow after their 2007 World Cup campaign

His successes on the pitch were matched behind the microphone in 2006 when his impressive singing took him to the final of X Factor: Battle of the Stars. Despite falling at the last hurdle, he managed to raise £125,000 for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

Stevens told Sky Sports News: 'I was tested for a prohibited substance but it's not performance enhancing, so you can take what you want from that.

'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.

'Like any drug problem you don't know it's happening and then it mounts up and
before you know it you have a problem and an illness.'

Stevens did not specify which drug he had tested positive for, but added: 'It
started off with just a couple of nights where you take it after a big night out
with your friends.

'It wasn't a big deal, (but) 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.'

Stevens has been suspended from all competition and removed from the England
Elite Player Squad.

A statement from the Rugby Football Union read: 'The Rugby Football Union has been made aware by European Rugby Cup (Ltd) of the positive doping test given by Matt Stevens following the Heineken Cup match against Glasgow Warriors in December 2008.

Matt Stevens

Stevens has been suspended by Bath and faces a possible two-year ban

'The procedure for potential doping offences is clearly laid out in the ERC Regulations and as such the player is immediately provisionally suspended from all competition.

'Matt has been removed from the England Elite Player Squad and will not travel to the training camp in Portugal on Sunday or be involved in the squad until the resolution of the case when a further decision on his inclusion in the England squad will be made.

'A decision on a replacement for Matt in the EPS squad is being considered by England Team Manager Martin Johnson and an announcement will be made in due course.'

A statement from Bath read: "Bath Rugby has been made aware of the initial positive test given by Matt Stevens following the Heineken Cup match against Glasgow Warriors in December.

Matt Stevens

Matt Stevens impressed with his singing skills on ITV's The X Factor: Battle of the Stars in 2006

'The procedure for potential doping offences is clearly laid out in both the player's contract and the European Rugby Cup Regulations.

'The player is immediately suspended from competition and has been suspended by Bath Rugby until the case is resolved.

'Bath Rugby condemns the use of prohibited substances as defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List.

Responding to the news, Professional Rugby Players Association CEO Damian Hopley added: 'We are shocked by this news, which is very out of character for Matt.

'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.

'The PRA and our members strongly condemn the use of performance enhancing or recreational drugs, and fully support the RFU and IRB anti-doping regulations.'

In 2006, Stevens appeared on The X Factor: Battle of the Stars on ITV, and reached the final, where he was beaten by Eastenders actress Lucy Benjamin.

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