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Johnson: Players abroad knew risks

World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson reckons Steffon Armitage or Nick Abendanon would be playing in England if they wanted to make Stuart Lancaster's squad for the 2015 tournament.

Hosts England's 45-man training squad for the September and October World Cup is to be announced on May 20 by head coach Lancaster.

Players based outside England - like Toulon back-row Armitage and Clermont Auvergne full-back Abendanon - are currently eligible for selection only in "exceptional circumstances".

And Johnson, who led England to victory in the 2003 tournament in Australia before, as team manager, presiding over a campaign marred by off-field issues in 2011, believes anyone wishing to play for England would be playing in the Aviva Premiership.

"Ultimately guys know the rules," Prudential RideLondon 100 participant Johnson told Press Association Sport.

"Whether it's exceptional circumstances or not it doesn't matter. They knew the situation.

"If they wanted to put themselves in a situation to play for England - like all the guys in England are doing - then come over and play here. It's as simple as that."

Johnson's view is supported by Lawrence Dallaglio, a key lieutenant in England's World Cup success almost 12 years ago.

Dallaglio said at the Telegraph Business of Sport Conference: "I truly believe the best rugby players in this country should play in the country.

"The rules are very simple, they're very clear. I think they're the right rules and I don't think they should be broken."

France-based players Armitage and Abendanon are viewed as major contenders for the squad in some quarters, given their impressive European Champions Cup and Top 14 form this term.

Lancaster, who succeeded Johnson, will only select the pair if he decides to invoke the "exceptional circumstances" criteria.

Johnson was England team manager for three-and-a-half years before resigning in November 2011 in ignominy after an embarrassing World Cup campaign in New Zealand, blighted by off-field indiscipline.

Players playing abroad caused issues prior to the implementation of the rule, which was formalised by the Rugby Football Union in 2010 and came into effect after the 2011 World Cup.

"When I was doing the England job we had guys go (abroad) before the rule was in there. It created issues, let's be honest," Johnson added.

"It created issues for us, it created a lot of issues for the players at times and was difficult.

"I can understand on a number of levels why the rule is there. Rightly or wrongly, disagree with it or not.

"If you're a player and you want to play for England you know what to do."

Johnson won 84 caps for England as a player and insisted desire to play had to be the first priority for any player and team.

"I loved playing club rugby. Winning European Cups is fantastic and it's a big part of what you do, but ultimately, if you're good enough, you want to have the best opportunity to play for your country and play in the biggest games of all, which are Test matches and World Cups," he added.

"If you desperately want to come and play, then you could've got yourself over here for this year to get yourself in a World Cup."

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie was at the same event as Dallaglio, but declined to comment on the situation.

Dallaglio believes Armitage should have approached Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal if he wanted to play for England.

A short-term move to Bath, which would have allowed the former London Irish back-row to play for England, collapsed last autumn.

Dallaglio added: "I don't honestly believe the best place for an English international rugby player is down in the south of France. I really don't.

"The players who went there went there because they weren't good enough to get in the England team.

"They are now playing at a level of rugby that is perhaps good enough - that depends what side you sit on."

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