Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

'Armitage deserves England spot'

England would be making a "big mistake" by not picking Steffon Armitage for Rugby World Cup 2015, according to Toulon team-mate Juan Smith.

Springboks flanker Smith believes England should relax their staunch policy of refusing to select overseas-based stars only in extreme circumstances.

Armitage left London Irish for Toulon in 2011 and has been in the international wilderness ever since.

Toulon take on Munster in Heineken Cup semi-final action in Marseille on Sunday, still bidding to retain their 2013 crown.

Former Cheetahs loose-forward Smith hailed five-cap Armitage as one of the world's current best flankers.

Back-rower Armitage has made the long list of candidates for Heineken Cup player of the season, but still remains all-but off limits for England recognition.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster paid 28-year-old Armitage a visit this week, to reveal the England door is not nailed shut.

Armitage's England return would require a policy re-jig and that is exactly what 32-year-old Schmidt has urged of Lancaster.

"He's one of the most special guys I've ever played with," said 69-cap Smith.

"I would be surprised if England don't pick him for the World Cup next year.

"I think they must relax on that not picking overseas guys, if you look at Steffon Armitage he is one of the best openside flankers in the world at the moment.

"So not to take that guy to the World Cup, that would be a big mistake."

Armitage has never fit the archetypal back-row mould, his 5ft 9in stature leaving him relatively low-slung by world stage standards.

The former Irish stalwart exploits his low centre of gravity to fine effect over the ball though, and Smith admitted he is the constant scourge of Toulon's opponents.

"He's a short, bulky guy, and if he's on the ball you don't get him cleaned off that ball," he said.

"And his all-round play, he can run, he can step, he can tackle, he can steal the ball, so I think he's arguably the worst nightmare for any team that play against Toulon.

"I must say they must realise it's a professional sport and it's good money for any player to come and play in France, especially when you look at the taxes for international players.

"If you look back at South Africa, [coach] Heyneke Meyer said he would pick the best player today."

Smith still finds his injury redemption catching him by surprise after reversing his enforced retirement to join Toulon in September.

After four unsuccessful Achilles operations in two years, Smith admitted defeat, calling it quits in February 2013.

When one former doctor suggested a different surgical approach, Smith threw caution to the wind - and has hardly missed a match since.

"I had nothing to lose and I went for another operation," he said.

"As soon as I got out of that operation and started my rehab everything went really well and there was no pain any more.

"If I look back now it's water under the bridge. I'm happy to be playing the sort of rugby I like to play and you always like to play without any pain, especially in the Achilles.

"One doctor, I won't mention any names, made a bit of a mess of it, removing some bone where it attaches to the Achilles.

"So I'd done all my rehab for the last two and a half years with part of my Achilles not attached.

"The last doctor put some cable anchors into my Achilles, and as soon as I got that, the day after I came out of surgery, I said to my wife, 'this feels like a new leg'.

"After everything that's happened, I couldn't be happier - just to have this chance to play and especially at a club like Toulon."

How to Complain

If you have a complaint about the editorial content of the Belfast Telegraph or Sunday Life then contact the Editor here. If you are not satisfied with the response provided then you can contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation here

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph