With news that Steffon Armitage could turn out for France at next year’s World Cup I’m left wondering why the hell Stuart Lancaster doesn’t just call him up into the England fold?
I understand that the RFU currently have a guideline in place for the national coach not to select players based overseas except for in ‘exceptional circumstances’ (whatever they may be).
I have two issues with this; the first being that Armitage is clearly an outstanding player at the very top of his game, if that’s not enough justification then I’m not quite sure what is?
Secondly, and looking more long term, surely in the modern era of rugby it is time to do away with such archaic rules that are forcing players to look at such extreme measures simply to turn out on the international stage.
Obviously Armitage was well aware of the consequences of his move to France at the time, but could either he or the RFU have predicted he would have the kind of season he has just had for Toulon?
It seems inevitable that given the financial incentives on offer in both Japan and France at the moment that we will be seeing more and more top English players seeking moves abroad as they look to maximise their earning potential in a career that can be short with one poorly timed tackle.
In an era of global expansion for rugby can nations really expect players to stay within a single country for their entire careers?
Further to this, the benefit of exposing players to other cultures, leagues and training styles cannot be overlooked. Do you really believe that Armitage could have reached the same level he achieved in 2013/14 had he not been playing in a Toulon line-up competing at the very top level?
Playing alongside the likes of Juan Smith and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and coming up against players like Mamuka Gorgodze and Thierry Dusautoir clearly hasn’t done him any harm.
This consistent exposure to the very best players in the world can only be a good thing for both Armitage and England.
Whilst I can see issues occurring in England selecting players who opt to move to the Southern Hemisphere being an issue given the timings of the season, surely players based in France should be eligible?
And given that Steffon Armitage has clearly been the standout player in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 12 months can England really afford to risk him turning out against them in the World Cup next year?
It’s clear that in order to win big tournaments, teams need big game players. For England big game players don’t come much better than Steffon Armitage. This is a player who has claimed successive Heineken Cup titles and a Top 14 Championship, which other England player can currently claim those kind of accolades?
I know that England currently have a well established backline that have proved they can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world, however I don’t think anyone could genuinely argue that it wouldn’t be boosted by the inclusion of Armitage.
The fact he can play at openside or number 8 adds an extra layer of versatility and could prove a huge bonus when Lancaster comes to selecting options on the bench. Armitage also offers something different to any of the other current England options with his low centre of gravity making him an excellent turnover specialist.
For me Lancaster would be absolutely mad not to implore the RFU to allow him to select Armitage in the upcoming autumn internationals. This would both negate the possibility of him turning out for France in the World Cup whilst also significantly strengthening the England squad just a year out from a World Cup on home soil.