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Mitchell pushes Armitage cause

Published 28/04/2015

Drew Mitchell has urged England to pick Toulon team-mate Steffon Armitage, pictured, for the Rugby World Cup
Drew Mitchell has urged England to pick Toulon team-mate Steffon Armitage, pictured, for the Rugby World Cup

Tom Wood and Tom Youngs have been branded "naive" in their "cop-out" claims that Steffon Armitage winning Rugby World Cup selection could divide the England squad.

Toulon wing Drew Mitchell challenged England to break their policy of ignoring overseas-based stars and select his club-mate Armitage for the autumn's World Cup.

Northampton flanker Wood has urged England not to "back-pedal on our position", while Leicester hooker Youngs admitted he would be "gutted" if "someone came in from France and took your spot".

Australia flyer Mitchell claimed England head coach Stuart Lancaster's much-vaunted squad culture would not prove as strong as heralded if it could crack under the return of one man.

"Regardless of whether it's Steffon or it's a bolter who hasn't been in the England squad, there's going to be someone who hasn't been around that environment for a great amount of time," said Mitchell.

"You always hear of bolters coming from nowhere being picked in squads, not just England, and having to adapt to that type of climate.

"So to be honest I think that's a bit of a cop-out.

"I think that's just people who are based in England and who are raising queries because they or someone they are close with friendship-wise may be the ones to miss out if Steffon comes in.

"If one guy can come in and is capable of really disrupting the group culture, then the focus would have to go back on how strong is that culture.

"Steffon's a really adaptable guy, he's a very likeable guy, he can adapt in any group I've seen him in, and he's a very well-liked member of our squad.

"And to say that he would disrupt the environment or the culture of the squad and the group I think is quite naive.

"What he brings on the field is world-class and also off the field he's also a really good bloke as well.

"I think that would be a real shame if they use that as an excuse not to pick him."

Australia produced a big U-turn on their refusal to select foreign-based stars last week, heaping yet more pressure on England to follow suit.

Wallabies boss Michael Cheika can now pick any overseas-based star boasting more than 60 caps, paving the way for Mitchell, Matt Giteau and George Smith to return to the Test arena.

England continue to uphold the policy of not selecting foreign-based players save for "exceptional circumstances", a clause not yet invoked.

Toulon will chase an unprecedented third straight European crown when facing Clermont at Twickenham in Saturday's Champions Cup final, with Mitchell and Giteau ready to prove their World Cup point.

Former Waratahs wing Mitchell, now 31 and holding 63 Test caps, believes number eight Armitage deserves to head into Saturday's showpiece in World Cup dress-rehearsal mode too.

"Steffon Armitage is probably the guy who has been in a similar position to Matt Giteau where England are concerned," said Mitchell.

"Steffon's not only been knocking on the door this year, he's been doing it over a number of years.

"And to have that type of player, if you look at the England squad they probably don't have anyone who plays his type of game, that high turnover rate and he's a strong ball-carrier too.

"He's always on the ball, he's got a very good running game, links well with the backs and forwards.

"I think he would really add some value to the English squad.

"Part of me hopes he's not included because it's a pretty tough pool with England, Australia and Wales all together, but Steffon is a mate of mine and I'd really like to see him get what he deserves and play again for England.

"It was inevitable the rules would be relaxed for Australia I think, the question was whether it would be before or after this World Cup.

"You've seen an unusual amount of young guys leaving New Zealand this year as well.

"So it's something each union is having to consider, to find the best way to keep the Test team as strong as possible but hold onto up-and-coming guys as well.

"It's a big step for Australian rugby and I'm lucky to sneak into consideration on the caps, but being eligible is completely different from being selected."

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