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Habana glad to avoid Armitage

South Africa wing Bryan Habana is delighted not to be facing Steffon Armitage at Twickenham on Saturday, but insists his Toulon team-mate has only himself to blame for being ignored by England.

Reigning European player of the year Armitage is overlooked due to the Rugby Football Union's policy of selecting overseas-based players only in 'exceptional circumstances'.

Bath made an attempt last month to sign the ball-poaching openside flanker only to baulk at the expense of recruiting him from Toulon in the absence of financial assistance from the RFU and it seems unlikely he will be involved in next year's home World Cup.

Habana views England's loss as South Africa's gain as the Springboks seek a reaction to Saturday's 29-15 defeat by Ireland, but insists Armitage is responsible for his unavailability.

"Nothing against the current England back row, who I think are pretty good, but I'm really happy that I'm not playing against Steffon," Habana said.

"Steffon is an exceptional player, has had a fantastic year and has played a massive role in the success Toulon have achieved over the last two seasons.

"He's playing a brand of rugby that means he should be selected but at this stage England are adhering to their protocols. It's sad that a player of his calibre isn't getting exposed at international level.

"He definitely wouldn't let that England jersey down, but unfortunately he chose that option a couple of years ago and has to live by his decision.

"As a player you understand the rules and regulations so when you do decide to take an offer overseas coming from a country where those rules are in place, you fully understand what you're getting into.

"I've had chats with Steffon about it. It's difficult for him. He really loves England and loved playing for the country.

"It's frustrating if you've been playing a level of rugby that sees you named European player of the year yet are not playing for your international team.

"It could be a little heartbreaking for him, but it's a decision he's taken and a decision he understands."

England have toppled the southern hemisphere superpowers on just two occasions in 12 Tests under Stuart Lancaster, but Habana detects signs of progress.

"They've been on a very steady upward curve. They've managed to restore a lot of pride in the jersey and they're playing a brand of rugby that means they can push a lot of top teams very close," he said.

"They're on the up and having the World Cup in England next year they will want to go out and show they deserve to be up there with the best in the world.

"It hasn't been an easy road but they've got to the point where they're respected globally."

Twickenham was the setting for Habana's international bow as a try-scoring replacement in 2004 and the 31-year-old, who has gone on to touch down 56 times in 104 caps, admits the venue holds special memories.

"Making my debut 10 years ago, scoring a try against the then world champions at the home of rugby with your first touch in international rugby is a fairytale start," he said.

"We went on to lose that game - 2004 was probably when England were at their best - and my second game at Twickenham in 2006, but the week after we won there.

"When I started out one stand hadn't been properly built. Now you've got 85,000 people singing Swing Low. It is a special place to play rugby."


From Belfast Telegraph