The clamour for Steffon Armitage to be included on the second plane down to New Zealand appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Many of the media pundits endorse the decision – citing the risk that many of England’s key players will migrate to France knowing that a precedent has been set if Steffon is included.
I’m not sure if this ruling was in place at the RFU before Stuart Lancaster arrived – I seem to think that it was – if so, then it may well be that he’s not entirely happy with the restriction – but I may well be wrong (I often am after all). Certainly it is in the interest of the Premiership clubs that the RFU stick with this policy – especially with no salary cap in the Top 14 and the TV boost from the new Champions Cup and Canal+. Monsieur Boudjellal will not be the only Frenchman trying to lure stars from across the Channel.
Personally, I think there is a case for including Steffon in the squad – particularly now with less than 18 months until the World Cup. Stephen Jones from the Sunday Times and Sir Clive agree with me too – although to be fair they may see it as me agreeing with them. No matter, the point is that we should have the best players in the squad for the World Cup.
Stuart Lancaster has left the door slightly ajar by stating that he would pick an overseas player under ‘exceptional circumstances’. If being the ‘Top 14’ and ‘European Player of the Year’ doesn’t qualify I’d bloody like to know who does – Batman?
In the Heineken Cup Final Armitage managed four turnovers – whilst wearing the number 8 shirt – Ritchie McCaw and Michael Hooper would be chuffed with those statistics!
No frontline England players are going to toddle off to France between now and November 2015, so it’s not an immediate problem and even those who support the ruling would be hard pressed to suggest that the squad wouldn’t be strengthened with the addition of Armitage.
After the World Cup it is possible that a number of players will go abroad anyway, accepting that they will have to sacrifice caps to secure a significant financial benefit. They will also know that if they return in a couple of years they’ll still be in with a chance of getting back in the squad for 2019 – James Haskell and Danny Cipriani are current examples of this being possible.
If it were up to me I’d add him now and see how he goes in the second or third test – off the bench if you like. At the end of the World Cup the RFU can restate and enforce the ruling that no overseas players will be included in future squads. The result would be no defections abroad in the meantime and a stronger squad for 2015. To me that’s the best of both world cups!