Oval Talk

Stevens right to call time on international career

Some may have been surprised by Matt Stevens's announcement of his retirement from international rugby at the age of just 29, others less so.

It certainly catches the attention of inquisitive minds when a player supposedly still enjoying the optimum years of his career takes the decision to call it a day.

On the face of it, Stevens's decision is logical - given his reasons - and certainly a respectable one.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make," he said. "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 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."

Stepping aside to allow the younger generation — and it is an exciting crop of talent — the opportunity to develop through regular international rugby in the long-term lead-up to the 2015 World Cup is something not only admirable on Stevens's part, but essential on a team level.

Often, looking at a range of sports, international figures linger for too long, thereby depriving a younger player or players the chance to start their international education at the earliest possible opportunity.

It will be alluded to in some quarters that Stevens has jumped before he was pushed, and there could well be an element of truth in that. But it cannot be doubted that he would have featured regularly for England, if only as a fringe player.

His decision is therefore not based solely upon his personal reasoning, but upon a genuine desire to see the national team progress in the best possible manner.

Inevitably Stevens's history will be referred to in any discussion regarding the former Bath player.

While the episode which nearly ended his career in early 2009 will remain a dark one for the man himself, his contrition and willingness to work so hard to recover his credibility with impressive displays for new club Saracens - earning a re-entry into the international set-up - mean his story will always serve as both a cautionary tale and a redemptive one.

Hopefully Stevens's decision will prove the correct one - both for himself, in that he continues to enjoy playing, and for the future of the England team.