Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

England door not shut on Armitage

Steffon Armitage faces another season of England exile but could still be drafted into Stuart Lancaster's Rugby World Cup 2015 squad at the last minute.

England head coach Lancaster has refused to fight England's policy of not selecting overseas-based stars other than in 'special circumstances'.

Double Heineken Cup champion Armitage will not add to his paltry return of five caps next term, despite claiming the European player of the year award on Monday.

Lancaster conceded he would invoke the 'special circumstances' get-out clause to include flanker Armitage in the World Cup however, should injuries bite in the build-up.

"The special circumstances have got to be associated with injuries," he said. "It's not my rule but it is a rule I support.

"The players are aware: I had a conversation with Toby Flood about his move to Toulouse this summer and he's aware of his position.

"But equally there is that potential there, but it would be more likely closer to a World Cup if that was the case.

"That would have to be for me close to a World Cup, I wouldn't do it at the moment, for a New Zealand tour, autumn international or for Six Nations either. Not when I've got other players out there who could be developed."

Flanker Armitage spearheaded Toulon's gritty 23-6 Heineken Cup victory over Saracens in Cardiff on Saturday, outmanoeuvring the much-vaunted north London club's back-row.

The 28-year-old ranks among the world's most potent loose-forwards, but has not represented England since 2009.

The former London Irish star has been ineligible for international selection since his Toulon switch, as England bid to shepherd their top stars away from the lure of big money on offer across the Channel.

Lancaster said abandoning the refusal to select overseas-based stars would spark an exodus of top talent to France.

The former Leeds boss also suggested it would disrespect agreements reached between Premiership clubs and the RFU to release players for international duty outside traditional International Rugby Board windows.

"Playing for England is the ultimate really, and you want the players to play in our club programme," he said.

"We pay an unbelievable amount of money for a club-country relationship that gives you access to the players you don't normally get through the IRB situation.

"I do think probably the biggest one is still about players playing here and if Steffon or Toby (Flood) was to go and keep playing for England, what would happen next?

"If Manu, Corbs and Courtney, and Owen, and the list goes on, if they were to choose to go, I think that would have a knock-on effect.

"But I'm not getting any indication anyone does to be honest, the younger players certainly, all they are talking about is wanting to play for England and for their clubs."


From Belfast Telegraph