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Armitage lauded by Toulon owner

England must select "one of the best players in the world" in Steffon Armitage to win the World Cup, according to Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

Outspoken Toulon chief Boudjellal admitted flanker Armitage knows full well Saturday's Champions Cup final is "the first game of his World Cup".

England have so far clung steadfastly to overlooking foreign-based stars, ignoring their "exceptional circumstances" clause to shun the likes of Toulon back-rower Armitage.

Toulon meet Clermont at Twickenham on Saturday bidding to claim an unprecedented third straight European crown - and Boudjellal believes Armitage deserves the chance to be back in west London with England at this autumn's World Cup.

"I think Steffon Armitage is one of the best players in the world, and if England want to win the World Cup to have Steffon Armitage in the team is a good idea," said Boudjellal.

"Steffon Armitage is English and even when you live outside, you're still English.

"In the team of England, you have an English passport and Steffon has an English passport.

"You don't change your nationality when you change your country.

"He's an Englishman - not in New York, but in Toulon.

"This is a great chance for him to prove he should be playing for England, and (Clermont full-back) Nick Abendanon too.

"I think Steffon knows that when he plays it's the first game of the World Cup.

"Perhaps there is just one game in Steffon's World Cup.

"But I hope it's the first game of the World Cup for Steffon this weekend."

Boudjellal confirmed he discussed allowing Armitage to swap the Stade Mayol club for Bath in October, but was ultimately relieved the 29-year-old opted to stay put.

"We spoke with Bath," said Boudjellal.

"I have one philosophy: there's no contract.

"When a player wants to leave he can, because I don't want players to play for Toulon because they are contracted.

"I want players to play for Toulon because they want to.

"I have the same philosophy as a comic book publisher.

"I want people to work with me because they want to work with me, not because they have a contract.

"And the rugby is the same thing.

"I said if Steffon wants to go to England, that's not a problem for me: then if he stays in Toulon, I know it's not because he has a contract, it's because he wants to play for Toulon.

"So I think he wanted to stay."

Self-made comic publishing magnate Boudjellal numbers among rugby's richest owners, but despite transforming Toulon into European titans still refuses to see himself as a "money-bags" figurehead.

The Toulon native is happy to hog the limelight in the French Riviera, a role he claims has allowed fiercely-private stars like Jonny Wilkiknson to ply their trade without distraction.

"I just work for my team and I work for the economy of my team," said Boudjellal.

"A lot of people think I'm a money-bags but I don't have a lot of money like Michelin (the backers of Clermont) or the boss of Bath, Bruce Craig, or the boss of Saracens.

"I'm not in the same galaxy of money, you understand?

"But I have been able to change the economy and my team is real economy - a lot of money but with the real economy of rugby, of the spirit of rugby.

"It's difficult for me because every year I'm sure of nothing, because if you are brave I need to sell my house, my company for my team.

"It's very difficult, but today, it's okay.

"There are no stars: Tana Umaga is not a star, Jonny is not a star.

"There's just one star, and it's me!

"Whenever we have a new player, I tell them there's just one star and it's me.

"I think I am a special man in rugby because I don't come from the rugby culture, I come from another culture - and in rugby I am a Sputnik."


From Belfast Telegraph