March 7 2014 Latest news:
Exclusive by James Cunliffe
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Matt Stevens says he has no regrets about retiring from England duty but insists it is “a travesty” that his Saracens team-mate David Strettle has been omitted from the Six Nations squad.
Winger Strettle is the Premiership’s leading try-scorer with eight touchdowns – and he has added another four in the Heineken Cup, including a hat-trick in the last European outing against Connacht.
The former Rotherham flyer maintained his hot streak at the weekend, scoring as the Hendon side claimed an historic 23-15 victory in a one-off clash against South African Currie Cup champions Sharks.
And prop Stevens, who called time on his international career in August 2012, said: “David Strettle’s just shown time and time again that he should be in the England set-up and it’s a travesty that he’s not there.
“It’s a slap in the face for him. What he’s been told is to use that to keep spurring him on and now that we’ve got through to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, he gets to do it on an international stage.”
Strettle’s omission from the squad was a surprise, especially given the long-term injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade.
Meanwhile, his fellow Sarries winger Chris Ashton has fallen from favour at international level - despite being the top scorer in this season’s Heineken Cup – after he was axed from the 26-man England squad that will travel to face France this weekend.
Exeter’s uncapped Jack Nowell has been named in his place and England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: “We have been pleased with the form of Chris Ashton recently.
“However, Jack Nowell has made great progress on the right wing and has also delivered in big games for Exeter. We feel it is the right time to look at another option in that position.
“Chris remains an important member of the squad and I’m sure he’ll be working hard to regain that position during the course of the Six Nations.”
There will still be a healthy Saracens contingent in the French capital on Saturday with Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Alex Goode, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell all in the squad.
Stevens has 44 caps for the Red Rose, and he got a call-up for the British and Irish Lions’ successful tour of Australia in the summer.
However, the 31-year-old will not be involved in the Six Nations after retiring from England duty – and he has no regrets.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” he said. “I made that decision and it’s time for the other guys to take up the torch, as it were.”
It is five years to the month since Stevens, then a Bath player, tested positive for cocaine and received a two-year ban – and it is three years to the week since he made his competitive return, having signed for Saracens.
“I don’t often think about it but it’s in the back of my mind and every game is great,” he said. “I suppose I appreciate it that much more because I know what it’s like when you’re not playing. I’ve kind of retired in a way and then come back from retirement.”
Stevens is now entering the twilight of his career, but he doesn’t think that his two years away from the sport and his subsequent international retirement will necessarily extend his career.
“I think I’ll retire when I retire,” he said. “I hope to retire on top rather than beating the last energy out of the body.
“I don’t think that [the ban and England retirement] will be a big difference. Who knows?”
Saracens’ 34-year-old club captain Steve Borthwick has already announced that this season will be his last, although his performances this term would suggest he has a few more campaigns left in him.
Stevens said: “With Steve, he’s an intelligent man and he wants to be in charge of that decision and I hope that when the time comes I’m in charge of that decision, rather than doing it for the sake of it.”
For now the prop is relishing his time at Sarries and he revealed: “This is the best side I’ve played in, within a club environment. Things have been going really well. Let’s just hope we can finish it off at the end of the season.
“It will be a travesty not to get something from this because we are in a good place right now and we’re playing good rugby.
“You don’t deserve things until you get them but we are working hard and we’ll really let ourselves down if we don’t get something.”