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Stevens ends 'incredible journey'

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Sportal.co.nz     10 Aug 2012     Getty Images

The 29-year-old Saracens prop has decided to quit the Test arena to ensure he can commit more time to his young family.

Stevens won 44 caps for his country and played in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups either side of a two-year ban for failing a drugs test.

But he felt he could commit himself through to the next World Cup in England in 2015, and has chosen to focus his efforts on the club game.

He said in an RFU statement: "This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make. Playing for England has been the ultimate honour and I have been very privileged and proud to wear the white shirt and play with some great players.

"I believe England under [head coach] Stuart [Lancaster], Graham [Rowntree] and Andy [Farrell] are heading in the right direction towards 2015 and I remain a huge supporter of what they are doing.

"But I have a young family and, conscious that I would not be able to commit to the World Cup in three years, I have decided that the time is right to call it a day and to focus on my rugby at Saracens."

He later added on Twitter: "To everyone who has supported me in an England jersey. Family, friends and England supporters. Thank you for the incredible journey."

Stevens had been named in Lancaster's Elite Player Squad for the coming season, and the head coach will need to choose a replacement for the 2005 Lions tourist with Sale's Henry Thomas one of the favourites to get the nod.

Lancaster said: "On behalf of England Rugby I want to thank Matt for his contribution over the years.

"He should look back on his international career with pride. I am sure he will continue to be successful with Saracens and beyond."

Stevens, then with Bath, made his England debut on the 2004 summer tour to New Zealand and his strong scrummaging and prominence in the loose quickly made him a regular.

But his career was almost destroyed in January 2009 when he tested positive for cocaine following a Heineken Cup game against Glasgow the previous month.

European Rugby Cup (ERC) imposed a two-year ban on Stevens for his drug offence but he vowed to return to the game when his suspension ended in January last year.

Saracens announced the signing of the South Africa-born forward a full year before his return, and he quickly made an impact once back in action.

He helped his new side secure the Premiership title and he was rewarded by returning to the international fold with the England Saxons squad last summer.

He resumed his Test career in England's World Cup warm-up matches, subsequently winning a place in the squad for the tournament in New Zealand.

He appeared off the bench in all five of last season's Six Nations fixtures, but missed the tour of South Africa with a shoulder injury.

His last appearance came in the Twickenham victory over Ireland in March.