World Cup door ajar for Armitage
World Cup door ajar for ArmitageSHARE
Steffon Armitage will not play for England this season, but coach Stuart Lancaster said it was possible he could be recalled for the World Cup.
The fact that the European player of the year plays his club rugby in France with Toulon currently rules him out of England contention, with Lancaster happy to uphold a RFU regulation that players at overseas clubs won't be considered for Test selection save in exceptional circumstances.
The rule is designed to help maintain the peace between the RFU and England's top-flight Premiership clubs.
But there are concerns ahead of next year's World Cup on home soil that England could be needlessly depriving themselves of a talented player by continuing to ignore loose forward Armitage.
The turnover specialist was named man-of-the-match as he he helped reigning champions Toulon retain the European Cup with a 23-6 win over Premiership side Saracens in Cardiff on Saturday.
Armitage followed that up by being named European player of the year by tournament organisers European Rugby Cup on Monday – the same day Lancaster announced a squad for next month's tour of New Zealand where Armitage's name was again absent.
But Lancaster said the 28-year-old could add to his meagre tally of five caps were England to suffer an injury crisis ahead of the World Cup.
"The special circumstances have got to be associated with injuries," Lancaster said Monday. "It's not my rule but it is a rule I support.
"The players are aware: I had a conversation with Toby Flood about his move to Toulouse this summer and he's aware of his position.
"But equally there is that potential there, but it would be more likely closer to a World Cup if that was the case.
"That would have to be for me close to a World Cup, I wouldn't do it at the moment, for a New Zealand tour, autumn international or for Six Nations either. Not when I've got other players out there who could be developed."
Armitage, previously of London Irish, hasn't played for England since 2010 but Lancaster defended the effective ban on overseas players as a way of preventing a host of Test players being seduced across the Channel by big-money offers from wealthy French clubs such as Toulon.
Lancaster also said selecting players based abroad for England duty would amount to a slap in the face for all those involved in brokering the deal between the RFU and the Premiership which allows players to be released to England outside of the International Rugby Board's mandatory Test 'window'.
"Playing for England is the ultimate really, and you want the players to play in our club programme," Lancaster said.
"We pay an unbelievable amount of money for a club-country relationship that gives you access to the players you don't normally get through the IRB situation.
"I do think probably the biggest one is still about players playing here and if Steffon or Toby (Flood) was to go and keep playing for England, what would happen next?
"If Manu (Tuilagi), Corbs (Alex Corbisiero) and Courtney (Lawes), and Owen (Farrell), and the list goes on, if they were to choose to go, I think that would have a knock-on effect.
"But I'm not getting any indication anyone does to be honest, the younger players certainly, all they are talking about is wanting to play for England and for their clubs."