England prop Matt Stevens has called time on his international rugby union career. Ben Coles writes why the timing is right for the player.
Players face a series of tribulations during their careers that will go on to define them. Injuries, fallouts, transfers - no twist is impossible or unimaginable.
Addiction is a different beast. So many elements fuse together to create the ultimate downward spiral - the necessity, the lack of control, the damage placed on the body and the neglect towards those around the victim. It nearly cost Matt Stevens his entire career and absolutely took away a strong portion of it.
Occasionally however, it can lead to greatness; or at the very least redemption. Before the 1996 NFL season, quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers checked into rehab after what started as a means of playing on by taking Vicodin developed into a full-blooded addiction, where the drug was used more for recreation than to manage his injuries.
After 46 days of rehabilitation, with the threat of a $900,000 fine looming, Favre took stock, got better and came back to lead the Packers to a 13-3 season and the Super Bowl title. Addiction did not necessarily mean the end - it proved to be just the beginning.
Stevens was slightly different. Cocaine became his nemesis and when the cracks appeared, his world caved in. He lost his livelihood and was banned for two years. Naturally, it was uncertain whether he would ever be able to compete at the top level again. He had excelled 15 months earlier at the 2007 Rugby World Cup before the truth emerged.
The fact is, Stevens did come back. A cathartic 10 months in the colours of Saracens took him from finding his feet again in the Aviva Premiership to being part of England’s Rugby World Cup squad in New Zealand. Defying the doubters and in a sense proving his remorse, he emulated Favre by starting in the 2011 Aviva Premiership Final with Saracens and lifting the trophy, then going on to play at the highest level with England. He hit rock bottom, came back and tasted success.
Now with new responsibilities as a father and unlikely to be more than a bench player for England going forward leading up to the next Rugby World Cup, the timing of his international retirement feels spot on.
Saracens have become his family and he can continue to excel in their special environment. It has been an intense four years in the spotlight for Stevens. Now is the right time to fade away.
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