England head coach Stuart Lancaster dismisses Steffon Armitage calls

Stuart Lancaster insists he will continue not to select players playing outside of England despite Steffon Armitage's form

Toulon star Steffon Armitage Photo: ERC

Stuart Lancaster has again dismissed calls for Toulon’s Steffon Armitage to be recalled to the England squad.

The England head coach has backed the Rugby Football Union’s policy of not selecting players outside of England despite a series of eye-catching performances in the Heineken Cup which landed Armitage the ERC European Player of the Year award after Toulon retained their title in Cardiff.

It’s important for the England coaches to have access to those players when they need it

Stuart Lancaster

Armitage has enjoyed a great campaign, picking up three man of the match awards in his nine Heineken Cup matches for his French club this season and has been influential in helping them reach another Top 14 final, where they play reigning champions Castres on Saturday.

But unless he returns to England the 28-year-old is unlikely to add to his five international caps.

“I agree with the policy,” Lancaster said after naming an initial 30-man squad for England’s summer tour of New Zealand.

“It’s important for the development of the English club game to have the leading players here, going head to head with each other, and it’s important for the England coaches to have access to those players when they need it.

“The RFU pays the clubs an unbelievable amount of money for that access because playing for England is the ultimate.”

Lancaster visited Armitage, and his brother Delon, in the south of France last month to speak to them about their future with England and while Lancaster has admitted he is an admirer of their abilities, has remained resolute in backing the RFU’s policy, barring a severe injury crisis.

“New Zealand are more rigid than us on this issue,” Lancaster added.

“They have no flexibility at all and it hasn’t done them any harm. ‘Exceptional circumstances’ are really about injuries and if we were to find ourselves in serious trouble just before a World Cup we might think about picking from abroad.

“But if such injuries occurred before a summer tour, or an autumn series, or a Six Nations, I’d choose to develop some of our young home-based players. It’s not my rule but I support it, as do the clubs.”

The policy has come under criticism from Armitage’s Toulon team-mates, including South African wing Bryan Habana, with the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner still a part of the Springboks set-up after SARU were forced to relax their policy of not selecting players abroad as more of their big names secured big-money moves to the northern hemisphere and Japan.

“Steff has really been phenomenal, and it is sad that because of where he plays he is not going to go on and achieve high honours,” Habana said after their Heineken Cup win.

“He gets vital turnovers that get the scoreboard ticking—three, six, nine points—and our team thrives on that. He is a crucial part of the team.

“The decision is out of our hands, but I think a guy like Steffon, with the season he has had, probably deserves to be playing international rugby. He is a great team man.”

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