There is no debate that Steffon Armitage is more than good enough to make it into the England EPS, having been named European player of the year last year, but that doesn’t mean he should be picked for England.
Firstly he cannot be picked according to current selection regulations stipulated by the RFU meaning that as an overseas player only exceptional circumstances can warrant his selection. Some would argue being one of the standout players in the Northern Hemisphere is definitely an exceptional circumstance.
However, should Armitage really play for England just on the basis of his form?
Playing for your country is very different to playing for your club, especially in a team of world class superstars, like Toulon. While Armitage would undoubtedly be able to cope at international level, having experienced it before and having improved immeasurably since his London Irish days, he has been outside the England set up for a very long time now. His last feature in the Red Rose was under Martin Johnson’s regime. As a professional he should fit into Stuart Lancaster’s set up easily, however does he fit the team culture?
If Armitage is so desperate to play international rugby why not move to England and fight for a place in the starting line up?
The problem I have with Armitage is his possible willingness to play for France by jumping through the loopholes opened to him by the IRB and the introduction of sevens into the Olympics. The issue here is the fact that Armitage could choose France over England just because he is playing in that country and does not fit his national selection policy.
To put it into context Nick Evans could qualify to play for England in the world cup if he followed the same criteria that Armitage has to in order to qualify for France. Nick Evans playing for England seems ridiculous, seeing as he chose to leave New Zealand, knowing he would therefore rule himself out of international selection.
Now my issue is if Armitage is so willing to play for England he could easily have moved. I can think of few, if any premiership clubs, that wouldn’t jump at the chance of having him in their squad. With the new salary cap in England too Armitage could join one of the wealthier clubs in England as a marquee signing outside of the salary cap and he wouldn’t even have to worry about any potential cut to his wages. Obviously a move is an enormous personal decision, but it is no difference than the choice to turn your back on the country you represented in the first place, which is what make the debate over his possible selection so lively.
However good Armitage is playing at the moment I don’t think he should play for England until he is in England. It undermines all the other players qualified for England, both here and overseas. It puts pressure on Armitage to perform as well as highlighting him as some messianic player who England will break their own rules to pick. Such an approach undermines the team culture promoted by Stuart Lancaster over the past few years, where the team is the greatest end and no player is more important than that. The bottom line is playing for England is representing your country, it is the pinnacle of your sport and a true honour. he chose to play for England in the past and that should be the end of it. Likewise, many players choose to shun their nation of birth to play for other nations. If Steffon Armitage wants the honour of playing for his country he should show his commitment, like everyone else in the team and play in England if he really wants to challenge for further international honours, but of course that is entirely his choice…