October 18 2006
Having been on the form of his life earlier in the year, Matt Stevens has suffered a frustrating shoulder injury that's set to put him out of action for the better part of a year. Unofficial England Rugby finds out how he's raring to get back onto the pitch and make that starting England jersey his.
Exclusive Interview with Matt Stevens
It's no secret that the England team have not had the majority of results go their way in recent times. The past season has been littered with club vs country arguments, players losing form, a complete shake-up the coaching structure, not to mention six defeats in ten Tests. Still, in amongst all the negativity, positives need to be taken into account. Lineout and posession statistics were top notch, good wins were achieved against the likes of Wales, Australia and Samoa, there was a close call against the current best team in the world and some excellent individual player performances. If the entire England Elite squad was fit and raring to go right now, one man's name would be one of the first on my team sheet.
Unfortunately things are not that simple for the Bath and England prop who's been out of action for the better part of a year after a shoulder injury ended the rest of his Six Nations prospects earlier in 2006. However once again looking on the bright side of things, Matt Stevens is well into rehabilitation now after his second operation and is looking to early in the new year to play again.
Matt's first foray into the England camp came in 2003 when he played in the Under 21 World Cup. After impressive performances there he was quickly fast-tracked to the England Elite set up and won two caps against the All Blacks on the Summer Tour after the World Cup after a scintilating non-cap performance against the New Zealand Barbarians earlier that year. He was in demand for Bath during their successful 2003/04 drive to the top of the Zurich Premiership table and in March 2004 he was selected as a replacement against Ireland at Twickenham ahead of Jason Leonard.
And just last week Stevens was given the huge honour of meeting Nelson Mandela after donating the money he won during his recent performances on X-Factor: Battle of the Stars to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Now that his return date is looming ever closer, I took a trip to Bath to meet the man himself.
Patrick: Afternoon Matt, how are you today?
Matt Stevens: Very well thanks, you?
No it's fine, I've been injured for the last 6 months on and off now because of a recurring shoulder injury. I've just had open surgery done on it 9 weeks ago though, getting on 10 weeks now and it looks as though it's working out ok. Everything's going pretty good and the rehab's going well so I should be back in January.
No it didn't. It was osteoscopic surgery and my bone in my shoulder was very hard and it sheared the actual anchor that they put it into your shoulder and it kind of, broke the screws when they were trying to put it in so that didn't work.
The first operation wasn't painful but the second one was because it was open and they had to cut through all the muscles. It's ok now though.
Very frustrating and I hate watching my fellow team-mates play, and given the chance, playing for England again would be a great honour and I'd be very happy to do it; it's just one of those things you have to live with in rugby.
Exactly, and a lot of cementing is needed because there's a lot of good props in my position so I've got a lot of work to do. When I first got to Bath , I was playing as a 19 year old and they were playing me off the bench and slowly bringing me into it. Now that I've reached the ripe old age of 24 I feel like I've got the experience to take on the starting role and in the last Six Nations I can probably say that I was the starting tighthead prop. That's what I want to carry on with.
Why England… well my dad and grandfather's English so it was a choice that I had to make; also considering I lived in South Africa for 18-19 years it was a difficult one but one that I'm very happy with and that I'm glad I made.
Wow, [thinks] probably my first game which wasn't even a capped one. It was against the NZ Barbarians but it was quite amazing because it was the first game back from the World Cup and I got to play with some World Cup winners. You're not really that presumptuous to think that you'll ever play in an international side and I was playing with the likes of Ben Cohen, Steve Thompson, Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall; just guys that I really looked up to and it was an amazing experience. I scored a try and we ended up winning the game which wouldn't have been a good one to lose straight after the World Cup! [laughs]
Fantastic. Now, you just graduated I hear, congratulations; same here.
Good man! Well done.
Very difficult because I was a full time rugby player and basically a full time student for most of my university career. The professors did give me some extra time to do stuff with the Lions tour, England and a hundred and one other practises I had to go to all the time but I didn't go to many lectures, I did most of the studying from tutorials with my tutors and professors and got through it that way. I just managed to scrape through in the end but it was something I'm very pleased I did.
Well that was never the case with me. I came to England to study first and I'm a big believer in balance and I think if I was just a rugby player I'd drive myself crazy. You need to do other things, especially in that younger stage in your life, for me at least. I think I need to go and do something with my sport and that was studying, I wanted to broaden my horizons, deepen my knowledge and make friends outside rugby. You tend only make friends in rugby if you play the game but now I've got diverse group of mates which is great!
I'd definitely have to say some of the people here at the club. Danny Grewcock definitely, Mike Catt, Steve Thompson, Ben Cohen, Lee Mears. All those guys. My contemporaries, but my contemporaries are all older than I am and a lot more experienced than me.
Lee's much older than me. He's 26. 2 years… 26, 27? 3 years older than me. In rugby it's like dog years, it's a long time! [laughs] But he's also very experienced, he's one of the most capped premiership players. I look up to Lee, but I look up Danny more. And guys like Lewis Moody. All the England players I'm a bit in awe of. So yeah it's been an amazing experience for me.
That was just crazy, just meeting the likes of Brian O'Driscoll… well I could go on forever couldn't I but there's so many players I got to meet and play with. And when you play with people like that you generally improve as a player.
Well it varies really because often you have players that are very good scrummagers but not necessarily that good around the park or vice versa. I think Phil Vickery would be one of my biggest rugby heroes. As a player, he epitomises to me what playing rugby is about. Strong, physical, very dynamic, fast; all those characteristics. And he's unbelievably competitive, that's what the modern rugby player is all about and it's something I aspire to. I think, there are a couple of props who are probably better scrummagers than he is but not necessarily better all around. Olivier Milloud is a brilliant scrummaging prop, same with David Flatman and Duncan Bell. So, there are a lot of candidates but I'd say Phil Vickery, oh and Os Du Randt is up there as well.
When you're with England , do the club players tend to stick together as opposed to mixing with others?
I suppose to an extent initially, but I think we're all good mates and I think Martin Corry has really built a good emphasis on team spirit; the boys really come together and feel like we're all mates. That's important in any team to have that feeling because when you go on the field, you're playing for yourself and everything else I mentioned before, but the person who's gonna be backing you up is the guy standing next to you so you need that kind of friendship.
What about with the Lions?
It's weird, the Lions is a very special tour because it transcends all that politics and I spent most of my time with a lot of the Irish and Welsh blokes to be honest. You obviously have your mates from England and you know them best but it's definitely good to know some of these different players. You end up forgetting about England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and you really do think more about the Lions as a kind of culture, it's not about the other countries it's about being one.
Well I suppose a lot of them are at Bath , Michael Lipman, Lee Mears, Mike Tindall, Danny Grewcock, he's a legend but he's also one of those very humble people that takes you under his wing and is a great bloke.
Let's talk about your time on the X-Factor! Why did you do it? [Lottie]
I was injured, I had nothing else to do, I like singing and it sounded like fun so I did it! [grins]
Cool. So was that your favourite would you say?
Well that and I liked the swing numbers like Mack The Knife. I can do that in my sleep because I grew up singing those kind of songs.
Lovely, we still stay in contact and she's going to come watch a game, either one where I can take her to watch or one where I'm actually playing, and she says she's very keen. She's the next England rugby groupie!
I have watched them again in the past couple of weeks. It's funny because it's cringe-worthy watching yourself on TV. I was very impressed with the show and how well it was done technically though.
I'm really eclectic, but I do like to play Rock, blues-y stuff cause I play the guitar and like to do acoustic numbers and stuff like that. I also love anything to do with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, any of that kind of stuff; either blues, jazz or swing. But I just love music. I was going to play something on my guitar on X-Factor but I ended up scrapping that idea because I didn't want to screw up the guitar.
Ah thanks mate.
It's weird cause I don't see it as doom and gloom at all. I'm really pleased that people are writing us off at the moment, it's a great position to be in. I'm quietly confident because I play with these guys week-in week-out and these are some seriously talented players. Without blowing anyone's trumpet I think England still have a very good chance. And all it takes is for us to click in the next couple of months and play a couple of good games and then who knows what happens after that. England have showed they can win it before and they've got some world cup winners in our side.
To be honest with you it's a World cup and we're defending it so there's a huge amount of pressure in that anyway.
We haven't had many good games and I don't want to make excuses, I'd rather just say to you that we're working on getting it right. I believe in this team, in the talent of this team and if we can sort out the mistakes that we are making and improving on the overall game then we have a good chance, especially with the coaching set up we have now. We've got some great players but we've also got a great coaching staff and I think we just need to believe in ourselves. The England supporters are the least fickle supporters in the World, they'll follow us everywhere and with them behind us, I think we've got a good chance.
Well every game leading to the World Cup has huge importance but I think that yes, tactically speaking, playing South Africa now gives us an inkling into what, who and how to play these guys and I think it's vital for the England set up to take these South Africa games one step at a time, moving on from game to game. It's an old sporting cliché but it's a truism, taking one game at a time and really building up some continuity and solidarity in the team building towards the World Cup. We have left it late, but I think we've got what it takes to bring it back. There's still a lot of rugby still to be played.
I obviously don't agree with the idea, probably because I'm a prop and it's the biggest confrontational areas in the game and I think that rugby is a confrontational sport. I have no problem with the IRB trying to make scrums safer but I think a lot of that is down to getting the refs better coached. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the scrum and it's not as difficult as they might think, they just need to go through a few more scrummaging drills to see how it works. Go speak to the people who know what they're talking about. Ask Phil Vickery, Phil Keith-Roach and get them to sit down with you and take you through it. I think that Jason Leonard made a great point in the paper the other day. He said you're never going to get people to take away the confrontation in scrummaging because that's what scrummaging is about. We don't want to turn into rugby league.
Exactly. It'd change the nature of the game completely!
No it definitely won't happen, not in my lifetime at least! There are compromises you can make. Making sure the gap is shorter, making sure that teams engage at the right height, and probably best to have them lowered to the ground, and just working on those different nuances.
I honestly don't have a preference. My reasons for liking tighthead are different for my reasons for liking loosehead. Loosehead is one of those positions where you can really dominate another prop. Tighthead is one of those positions where you can really improve the scrum as a whole. They're two completely different positions and for some reason I like both of them. As long as I get to play for England , I'll play bloody wing!
I've given it a lot of thought but I haven't made any decisions yet. I just want to be as active as possible. If it's something to do with rugby that'd be great. I like working with people and just enjoy myself really, but I haven't made a decision yet.
[thinks] Probably flanker, I've played there before and enjoy the confrontation.
Well firstly you look at the location, it's superb. We don't want to leave this ground but there are a lot of technicalities surrounding it. I think it'll be a huge shame to see rugby leave; it really is the most unbelievable ground. I mean sure you can look at Twickenham, the Millenium Stadium and all that but in terms of club rugby there's no more beautiful ground in the world, surrounded by beautiful buildings, chapels and the bells ring at half time, do you know what I mean, it's just superb. Fingers crossed it'll all work out.
That's great and it's hugely important to really get the word out and let the powers that be know where the fans stand. None of the players want to leave, we love it here.
I've actually got something to do with that, but I think they look alright. All I'll say is, it take a real man to wear pink!
[promptly] Olly Barkley. Simple as that.
Not a problem mate, cheers [smiles].
A genuinely nice and friendly guy, Matt Stevens' attitudes towards rugby and life in general was great to hear. His fantastic form last season has earned him many plaudits, not least Man of the Match in the last 6 Nations. He epitomises the modern day prop perfectly, and does so in a very impressive manner; being extremely strong, powerful in the scrum, great in defense and dynamic around the park. The fact that he can play both sides of the scrum, has age on his side, can sing on live TV (very well) and not have a problem wearing pink shirts is a bonus.
Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions Matt and good luck with the rest of your rehabilitation.
Height: 1.83 metres