Matt Stevens gets an early sample of reality after returning to Saracens from cocaine ban

Matt Stevens was only a few hours into his return to rugby when the drug testers arrived. Five Saracens players were asked to provide a sample. Surprise, surprise, he
was one of them. Welcome back.

The England prop had just completed a two-year doping ban for cocaine use, so he
understood the inevitability of the visit by UK Sport officials.

‘Yeah, I was tested,’ he said. ‘I knew I was going to get tested. They are supposed to
be random but I was expecting the whole thing.’

Day one at his new club’s St Albans training base was certainly eventful. There were
other tests, as well. 

Back in action: Stevens trains

Back in action: Stevens trains

Stevens won a speed-eating contest by wolfing down a Mars bar and jelly at breakneck speed. He was less successful in a sing-off — his ‘loud and off-key’ rendition of My Way proving no match for Kelly Brown’ s take on Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell.

Oh, and he also had time to smash a few new team-mates in training and engage in
scrummaging for the first time since he was banished into enforced exile in January, 2009.

Andy Farrell, Saracens’ head coach, revealed that the new arrival had already made his mark in duck-to-water fashion and the intention is to ‘throw him in at the deep end’.

The upshot is that he is making his debut in an ‘A’ team fixture against Wasps on
Monday night. He has been getting his competitive kicks from Brazilian jujitsu during the ban and the martial art helped revive his desire to return to rugby, after initial doubts.

Asked if he had envisaged this moment early in his ban, Stevens said: ‘No. I wasn’t in a good place. I needed to step back from it all. But two or three months into it I started
training again and competing.

‘After my first fight in jujitsu I thought, “Jeez, I love this feeling, I love competing. I’ve got to get back to doing what I’m good at, which is rugby.”

‘It didn’t cross my mind to quit, but it was definitely something that was on the cards. But after a few months I realised I had a lot of unfinished business in rugby.’ 

The road to redemption: Stevens considered quitting rugby

The road to redemption: Stevens considered quitting rugby

Stevens believes the hefty suspension was one of the best things to happen to him. He was ‘humbled’ by the support of his playing peers, but admits to trepidation about the public response to his comeback, despite encouragement from people he has encountered over the last two years.

‘I am a bit nervous, but on the whole I’ve had nothing but positive reactions,’ he said.

‘People understand that you can make mistakes, a lot of mistakes, as long as I try to
make sure that I don’t make those mistakes again.’

He is honest enough to admit coming off cocaine and staying ‘clean’ has been a struggle and that the struggle is on-going.

‘I’ve been working with counsellors and talking to people — it’s not something you can do on your own,’ he said.

‘You have to take as much support as you can. My family have been great, as have my
friends, players and the club. It is something I have to be constantly aware of and focused on. Of course, I am always on guard. I have to keep on top.’ 

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