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Page last updated at 17:25 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Prop Stevens handed two-year ban

Matt Stevens
Stevens is not allowed to play or coach rugby union for two years

England and Bath prop Matt Stevens has been banned from rugby union for two years after testing positive for cocaine following a game in December.

The 26-year-old will not appeal against the decision, which was taken at a judicial hearing on Thursday, and will accept "full responsibility".

Stevens will be allowed to resume his career on 19 January, 2011.

Stevens's agent said the player "intends to return to the game a better person and rugby player".

The agent added that Stevens would like to apologise once more "to everyone that has been involved in his career at Bath and England, his team-mates and rugby fans for letting them down".

The prop tested positive following Bath's Heineken Cup game against Glasgow in December.

European Rugby Cup (ERC), the organisers of the Heineken Cup, said Stevens's sample "contained benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine, which are metabolites of cocaine".

ERC added that "cocaine is a stimulant and is a prohibited substance" under the competition's rules, Wada's world anti-doping code and International Rugby Board regulations.

"This was Mr Stevens' first anti-doping rule violation and the judicial committee accordingly imposed the prescribed sanction of a two-year period of ineligibility from all rugby playing and rugby related activities dated from 19 January, 2009, up to and including 18 January, 2011," said the ERC.

Stevens, who will not be allowed to train with his club, was automatically suspended as soon as his positive test was revealed and was immediately withdrawn from England's squad for the Six Nations.

He made his debut for England against New Zealand in 2004 and has gone on to win 32 caps.

Speaking after testing positive the 26-year-old confessed to having problems with a "very serious substance".

606: DEBATE
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England manager Martin Johnson said they would support Stevens - who is seeking help for his problem - but added that all players had to take responsibility for their own actions.

"I have said all through this episode that there is no place in sport or society for illegal drug use," said Johnson.

"Matt chose to take a banned substance and will now have to accept the consequences. He will not be involved in rugby for two years and for a professional sportsman that will be a very tough experience.

"Matt has admitted that he has a problem and is seeking help. We support him in that but all rugby players must understand that they are responsible for their actions, and that includes lifestyle choices."

Bath chief executive Bob Calleja told BBC Radio Bristol that the club had yet to make a decision on the player's future, adding they would hold an internal hearing with Stevens "within the next few days".

"We have to go through the procedure, now that this formal part has been concluded," said Calleja.

Knowing Matt's optimistic outlook I have no doubt that he will conquer his illness in due course and make a successful return to the game
Players' chief Damian Hopley

"He now has to return home and face the internal hearing before judgement is made in that regard as to what the future holds for Matt in Bath."

The Professional Rugby Players Association (PRA) said Stevens had paid a "heavy price" but added that it supported the judicial committee's decision to ban him.

"Today's news serves as the ultimate deterrent to any players who find themselves exposed to any banned substances," said PRA chief executive Damian Hopley.

"Whilst strongly reaffirming the PRA's condemnation of the use of performance enhancing and recreational drugs, we will continue to do everything we can to provide Matt with the support he needs during his rehabilitation period.

"Knowing Matt's optimistic outlook, I have no doubt that he will conquer his illness in due course, and make a successful return to the game."

After his "A" sample tested positive Stevens turned down the chance to have his "B" sample tested, but he requested a hearing by a judicial committee in order to determine whether there had been a violation of the anti-doping regulations.

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see also
Bath feel 'let down' by Stevens
21 Jan 09 |  English
Manchester prop banned for drugs
10 Dec 08 |  English
Sailor handed two-year suspension
21 Jul 06 |  Internationals


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