Saracens prop, Matt Stevens has been a regular face in an England shirt and the Aviva Premiership over a number of seasons, with tenures at both Bath and Sarries before, this season, making the decision to return to his country of birth – South Africa.
Matt was born in Durban in 1982 before attending Kearsney College where he began his rugby career. It was from their his career went from strength to strength with representative honours for Western Province, South African Universities and the Junior Springboks.
However, Stevens made the big decision to move to England and attend Bath University to pursue his studies.
It was from that base at the West Country university that the young prop launched his professional career after being spotted and chosen for Bath.
120 caps later with a number of England appearances under his belt, Matt moved to Saracens.
After suffering a two year ban from the game, Matt made an impact on his return to the professional game, featuring in the Sarries side that defeated Leicester Tigers in the 2010-11 Premiership final.
It was not to be the fairy-tale ending for Matt at Saracens, though, as the team fell to consecutive finals defeats against both Toulon and Northampton. A disappointing end to a mixed bag of a season, after finishing the league in first.
This summer Matt has decided to return to his home land after signing a two-year contract with the Natal Sharks.
Talking Rugby Union’s Austin Halewood caught up with Matt at Allianz Park, the home of Saracens, at the inaugural Sevens and the City tournament, to ask him about the disappointing end of the season and his move back to South Africa.
The tournament itself was the idea of Matt and Sarries team-mate David Stettle who wanted to host their own multi-sport tournament, with rugby sevens at the heart of it, at the fantastic facilities on offer at Allianz Park.
Firstly, recalling the end of the season and speaking about how the team are recovering from such difficult losses, Matt agreed that “yeah, it has been extremely difficult for us all to take.
“I don’t think the pain from the games will really ease until the boys play their first game again.
“That’s what’s difficult when you lose at the end of the season; but, having said that, this team is a resilient one and it’s also a team that has been their or their abouts for the last five years, having won the Premiership alongside being right at the top of Europe.
“What I said to the guys when I left was ‘as long as this team, Saracens, is putting itself in a place for a playoff spot then you’re going to win a lot of tittles and I think Sarries will, eventually win a lot of titles.”
With such a fantastic team put together by Sarries Director of Rugby Mark McCall, including the youthful talent of Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola to name just two, leaving the London-based club would certainly not have been a decision Matt took lightly.
“South Africa is where I grew up,” Matt began, “it’s where I began playing rugby so it’s really a bit like coming full-circle for me.
“I’ve always been a big Sharks fan myself; if there’s anyone who I’m a fan of after Saracens and England it is the Sharks so going there is certainly special for me.
“And also, alongside that, I’d like to go back to South Africa and show my family what that’s like.
“Having said that I was thinking back the other day: I have spent almost half of my adult life in England and the other half in South Africa so I’m a little bit torn between the two.
“I’m definitely an Englishman and I’m definitely a South African – so it’s an interesting conundrum.
“But I’m really looking forward to getting back into things in South Africa.”
Matt is hoping to make an early Sharks debut this weekend in the Sharks Currie Cup opener against Griquas. The former England prop will start from the bench.