Armitage's international future back in the spotlight
August 10, 2014
Steffon Armitage is the current European Player of the Year © ERC
Steffon Armitage is reportedly considering switching his international allegiance to France.
Armitage, who last played for England in 2010, has been one of the standout back-rowers in the Top 14 over the past few seasons. His move to Toulon has seen him win the Heineken Cup twice and the French league but despite his impressive form, the fact he plays in France has seen him be out of the England reckoning.
England's policy is to only pick those playing overseas in exceptional circumstances meaning unless there is a back-row injury crisis, the chances of Armitage playing in the forthcoming World Cup for England seem limited.
But he could yet play for France. The Olympic/IRB loophole means any player who has not represented another nation for 18 months but has a valid passport for another can switch allegiance if they are picked for the IRB World Sevens Series this year, a competition which is doubling as Olympic qualifiers.
This case has already been spoken of in relation to the likes of Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu switching allegiance to Fiji after seeing their All Blacks careers come to an end but it also applies to the Armitage brothers who could both line up for France.
While Steffon does not currently hold a French passport, the Sunday Telegraph says he is considering exploring the chances of him running out for France. The newspaper reports: "He wants to play for France apparently, but only once he has obtained a passport will he consider talking to the French Rugby Federation or the International Rugby Board."
Stuart Lancaster visited Armitage prior to the end of last season and informed the back-rower his international chances for England were unlikely while he continued to ply his trade in the Top 14.
"He came over to explain the situation," Steffon Armitage said. "He said I can't be picked for the autumn and that I can't be picked for the Six Nations, so at the moment I'm just doing my best to stay fit and keep my head down. If it happens close to the World Cup that he picks me for the training camps, then it happens, but until then all I can do is focus on each game.
"The World Cup is more than a year away and a lot can happen. He said he has kept an eye on me and is happy, but there's rules and they have to stick by them."
It is a selection policy which is unique to England in Europe. The Springboks pick those playing outside of South Africa - Toulon's Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith and Bryan Habana are in their squad for the Rugby Championship - and in Smith's view, England's selection policy is "stupid".
"I think they must look at the rule that they don't pick overseas players," Smith said. "Going to the World Cup you need to play the best players from your country. Personally I think it is a stupid rule. Hopefully they will look at it."
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