Sharks sign Stevens

2014-02-19 00:00

THE 2014 Super Rugby season is barely under way and Sharks coach Jake White, known for thinking ahead, has already begun planning his team’s Currie Cup defence with the signing of former England prop Matt Stevens.

The Sharks yesterday confirmed the signing of the Durban-born Kearsney College Old Boy who was a part of two British and Irish Lions tours, to a two-year contract.

However, contrary to earlier reports yesterday that suggested the former Bath RFC and Saracens man was signed to play Super Rugby, he will remain with the London-based side until the end of the current Aviva Premiership season, and only link up with the Sharks in August, ahead of the start of the Currie Cup.

The move for Stevens is to strengthen the Sharks Currie Cup defence due to a number of their props expected to be on international duty with the Springboks.

The 31-year-old played 44 Tests for England, and was a part of two Lions tours in 2005 and 2013. In 2007, Stevens was on the bench during the World Cup final against the Jake White-coached Springboks in Paris, coming on as a second-half replacement for Phil Vickery.

Stevens courted negative publicity though in 2009 when he tested positive for recreational drugs — cocaine — and was subsequently banned from the game for two years. This resulted in him quitting the club.

In 2006, the burly prop appeared on the celebrity version of the popular UK singing show X-Factor and raised £125 000 (R2,3 million) for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He reportedly handed over the cheque personally to the late former statesman.

Speaking of the signing in a statement released yesterday, Sharks coach Jake White said, “Matt has a burning desire to be a part of our Currie Cup campaign and is a great signing for us.

“With our front-row being unavailable during the latter part of the year due to Springbok commitments, Matt’s experience and knowledge will prove invaluable and the youngsters in our squad can take confidence from having a senior guy in the front-row,” said White.

Sharks CEO John Smit, who played alongside Stevens at Saracens, said his versatility and ability to play on either side of the scrum made him a great acquisition.

“We look forward to welcoming him to the Sharks family,” he said.

The move has also excited the Sharks Supporters Club, with chairperson George Laas describing it as “excellent news”.

“He’s an ex-Durban boy and a Kearsney Old Boy, so I’m quite excited. It’s nice to see, and I’m sure Jake White would have done his homework,” Laas told The Witness yesterday.

In the past, the Sharks have managed to lure foreign international stars such as Thierry Lacroix, Gregor Townsend, Federico Méndez, Juan Martin Hernández and most recently Frederic Michalak, something Laas said he enjoyed seeing.

“It’s good to see foreign talent here. But this time it’s going to be good to see foreign talent that is South African.

“He’s had his moments, but the Sharks have a strong emphasis on discipline, and he’ll be a good fit. And a couple of the youngsters will learn a thing or two,” Laas added.


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