European Rugby Cup Player of the Year Steffon Armitage could make a shock return to the England side just in time for the World Cup next year with reports suggesting he could be set to move back to the Aviva Premiership.
The Toulon flanker has spent the past three years at the French club, winning two Heineken Cups and the Top 14. However, the last of his five international appearances came in 2010 against Italy in the Six Nations, with current head coach Stuart Lancaster avoiding picking English stars playing abroad, unless under exceptional circumstances.
Any scenario that involves 29-year-old Armitage wearing the Red Rose shirt once again would have to involve him returning to the Premiership.
He previously spent a successful five years at London Irish, where he helped the Exiles to the domestic final in 2009 only to suffer defeat at the hands of the Leicester Tigers.
During his time at the Madejski Stadium, Armitage made his debut for the England senior side in 2009 after success with the Saxons team in the Churchill Cup a year earlier.
He made another four appearances - including two matches against Argentina - before crossing the channel to France.
Back-row star Armitage has become a fan favourite since moving to Toulon, where he has was later joined by brothers Delon and Guy, helping them and himself to several trophies and individual awards.
With Lancaster’s stance on not selecting any foreign-based players for England, it raised the hopes of the French side.
Under the new International Rugby Board’s rules, Armitage could feature for another nation after 18 months of international exile.
The other terms to this are that he must ensure he has a French passport and has to feature for the Sevens team in at least four World Series events prior to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The latter requirement has been off putting for Trinidadian-born Armitage, and he now looks set to explore his options of returning to the Premiership.
Bath are leading the race to sign the 29-year-old, whilst play-off finalists Saracens are also interested in bringing him back to England.
Armitage’s Toulon manager, Bernard Laporte, hopes to hang onto his star player, but knows that if his country comes calling, then he won’t be able to stop him from leaving.
“He has a contract [with Toulon], but if the England coach says if he plays for Bath or for Saracens then he will play in the World Cup, I think he has to play for these clubs,” the former French boss told BBC Sport.
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