Steffon Armitage’s place in the England squad at the World Cup next year is in serious jeopardy, after he was named in Toulon’s side for the European Champions Cup this weekend.
The 29-year-old was expected to move to Bath in an attempt to return to the national set-up having played the last of his five caps back in 2010. Since taking over from World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson in 2011, head coach Stuart Lancaster has insisted that he will only select players who play their domestic rugby in England.
New country, new challenges
Armitage moved to France in 2011, joining Toulon from Aviva Premiership side London Irish. Since crossing the channel to the Cote d’Azur, he has gone on to help the Stade Mayol outfit to two consecutive Heineken Cup titles, including a 23-6 victory in last season’s final against Saracens.
It was Armitage’s displays during this success that led to him picking up the European Player of the Year award for 2014. Toulon also completed the double last year, also collecting the Top 14 trophy.
With the latter competition being replaced by the European Rugby Champions Cup, the French club will be hoping that they can continue their success in the new tournament with Armitage.
Head coach Bernard Laporte has chosen the Trinidad-born back-row to start in Sunday’s match against Welsh side Scarlets. The former French national team boss told BBC Wales that Armitage “will begin at number eight.”
Move in jeopardy
This puts his return to the Premiership in serious trouble, as Bath have said they will not sign him if he is cup-tied for European competitions. Armitage had previously been looked at playing for France, with his international exile meaning he only needed a French passport and to play for the Sevens side in four of their World Series events to qualify.
However, it was the latter requirement that put him off of turning out for Les Bleus, while he has also claimed to BBC Sport in previous years that “it is a big honour to put on the red rose.”
If Armitage does feature on Sunday against Scarlets at the Stade Mayol, then it would be a huge loss for England and Bath. No Premiership return will mean that he will not be available for selection by Lancaster, who would be preventing one of the best flankers in the game from featuring at his home World Cup.
Bath will also be unhappy if they fail to sign Armitage, as they are suffering an injury crisis in their back-row at the moment. They are missing Francois Louw, Carl Fearns, Matt Garvey and Alafoti Fa’osiliva, with Leroy Houston also out with a three-week suspension.