This is an open plea to both Stuart Lancaster and the RFU to do the right thing for the World Cup to maximise England’s chances at the tournament.
Based on this, and the evidence of yesterday’s European Champions Cup final, England would have to be crazy to not at least consider calling up both Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon.
That’s not to say they change their selection policy entirely, simply that they do what is in the national interest and invoke the exceptional circumstances clause.
At the 2011 World Cup, players like Simon Shaw, James Haskell and Tom Palmer were all included despite playing their rugby in France or Japan at the time. There were also very few complaints about Jonny Wilkinson’s inclusion despite being contracted to Toulon.
This was a case of Head Coach Martin Johnson choosing the best available players to complete the task at hand. There is no justifiable reason for not taking the same approach this time around, especially given the World Cup is on home soil.
It doesn’t come much more exceptional than a home World Cup, so if not now, when will this clause be invoked? Thus far the biggest complaint seems to be that players in the current squad might get a bit upset.
Frankly, if they are good enough to play, it shouldn’t matter if Armitage and Abendanon are included as they should be the best available player in their position. If England are to stand any chance of claiming the title, they need the best possible players at their disposable.
Even if Armitage and Abendanon are called up, there are no guarantees that they would even play, however they are both worth looking at in the training camp. It must also be made clear that this is a one-off event and will be their only international recognition whilst they remain in France.
It’s important to remember that England will have to qualify from a group that contains both Wales and Australia. Interestingly, both of these nations are now open to calling-up players plying their trade abroad, in the interests of securing victory at any cost.
This is a mentality that England need to adopt in the run up to the World Cup. Frankly, fans and players are going to feel considerably better celebrating a World Cup victory despite having invoked the exceptional circumstances rule, than going out in the group stages, but claiming a principled victory because they stuck to their guns.