Stevens so vital
Saracens prop the pick of Johnson's new boys, says Ryan
Last Updated: 23/06/11 4:42pm
Stevens: returns to the full England fold
Dean Ryan believes Matt Stevens' redemption will be rounded off with a place in England's World Cup squad.
"Matt Stevens is a genuine contender to play 3 and 1 and there aren't many people who can sat that. An awful lot of people go across to the other side, but it is usually a finger in the dam."
Dean Ryan Quotes of the week
The Saracens prop, who returned from a two-year ban for taking cocaine in February, has forced his way back into Martin Johnson's plans for this autumn's tournament down under.
Stevens is expected to play at tight-head but the fact that he has done so well for his club at loose head, underlines the versatility that he adds to England's front row armoury.
His clubmate Mouritz Botha and Leicester pair Manu Tuilagi and Thomas Waldrom were other names added to the established internationals in Johnson's party but for Ryan, it is Stevens who is likeliest to secure his place on the plane.
"The key names are Tuilaga, Botha and Waldrom because they've not been capped before," he told Sky Sports News HD.
"Matt Stevens has obviously got experience playing in an England shirt and has had a pretty good Churchill Cup. He is back and back in good form.
"I think he's been asked to play tight head - he came back for Saracens and played loose head and they have not lost a game since he returned. What he's showed - and what is such an attractive proposition going to the World Cup - is versatility.
"He is a genuine contender to play 3 and 1 and there aren't many people who can say that. An awful lot of people go across to the other side, but it is usually a finger in the dam. He's done well over the Churchill Cup."
Tuilagi is of course still serving a suspension of his own for punching potential England team-mate Chris Ashton in the Premiership semi-final.
His ban, which was reduced from 10 weeks to five, kept him out of the recent Churchill Cup and Ryan believes he could yet be the man to freshen up a midfield section that is in dire need of some new blood to put pressure on the established faces.
And because of that alone, he believes the Samoan-born centre could join Stevens in securing a spot in the final 30-man squad to be named in August.
"I think the midfield has always been a conundrum for England and that's due to a real lack of competition in there," said Ryan.
"Tuilagi's come onto the scene, he's made himself available, he does have deficinecies in his game but he has a big physical presence.
"I think there is some disappointment with the likes of Brad Barritt and Jon Clarke who have played well all year but have not made the training squad, and if you look at the names (Matt) Banahan, (Riki) Flutey, Tuilagi, (Shontayne) Hape and (Mike) Tindall, that looks like everybody might be going.
"It will be interesting to see how the next eight to 10 weeks shape up but certain areas, particularly around the backline, don't have a great deal of competition. Potentially it's not far off the squad."
Tuilagi is joined in the 45-man party by Waldrom and Botha as non-English born players looking to break into Johnson's plans.
Ryan though, says there is nothing wrong with players pulling on the white shirt, providing they are not simply fast-tracked into the senior XV - like South African-born Botha.
"I like the way Botha has gone about his game," he said. "He played three games in the Churchill Cup, showed an awful lot of passion for playing in the England shirt and as a supporter that's effectively what you want to see.
"Thomas Waldrom hasn't been asked to do that and has come straight across to the squad. You presume he's going to play in those warm-up games and he really needs to illustrate his passion for playing for England if he wants people to be supportive of him in that role.
"There's always a difficult conundrum. They are available, you've got to pick them, there's a host of them across the England team.
"But the one thing I think we do really require is that they do illustrate a passion for the shirt. And they do have to go through an element of the system to achieve the ultimate of getting an England cap."