Lancaster lauds outstanding Stevens
England Saxons boss Stuart Lancaster has hailed Matt Stevens as the Saracens prop prepares to cap a remarkable comeback by being named in England's preliminary World Cup squad.
Stevens only returned to the game in January after serving a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine, but he has turned in a string of impressive performances in helping Sarries win their first Aviva Premiership title and the Saxons secure Churchill Cup success.
"From my point of view, Matt has been outstanding," said Lancaster. "He came in, added an experienced voice and played three lots of 80 minutes on the bounce in the tournament. He has been great off the field, and on the field he has delivered for me and the other coaches. It's a tick for me in the box."
England team manager Martin Johnson names a 45-man group on Monday and, while Stevens is taking nothing for granted, he is eager to add to the 32 caps he won before his suspension.
"Because I've played for England before, I know exactly the honour and esteem that goes with it," he said. "I am very keen. I will work as hard as I can and see what happens. It has been a tough five months, but it is just week on week for me now. There is a lot of room for improvement, I know that, but I am happy with the way things are going."
Johnson's squad will include all the familiar faces responsible for England's RBS 6 Nations title triumph earlier this year. But there are likely to be some interesting additions, with the so-called foreign legion possibly out in force.
Leicester's Samoa-born centre Manu Tuilagi, who completes a suspension next Thursday for punching Northampton and England wing Chris Ashton during a feisty Premiership play-off clash at Welford Road in May, can expect the call from Johnson.
Tuilagi's Tigers team-mate Thomas Waldrom, born in New Zealand but who has an English grandmother, is another strong contender, along with two of Saracens' South Africa-born contingent - centre Brad Barritt and lock Mouritz Botha.
And it will be fascinating to see whether or not Johnson finds a place for ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, who led Saracens to title glory just three weeks ago.
Second-row Borthwick has not featured for England since last year's Six Nations, having initially had a knee injury and then being omitted from the elite player squad announced by Johnson in July.