Wilkinson backs Armitage decision


Published: Wednesday 10th June 2015 by The News Editor

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A last-minute World Cup return by Steffon Armitage would have been “disruptive” for England, according to Jonny Wilkinson.

World Cup-winner Wilkinson has backed his former Toulon team-mate Armitage’s decision not to chase a Test return by forcing a move back to a Premiership club.

Flanker Armitage has been in the Test wilderness since swapping London Irish for Toulon in 2011, as England refuse to select overseas-based stars.

Armitage rejected the chance to join Bath to reignite his World Cup chances, and now ex-Toulon fly-half Wilkinson has backed that call.

“I spoke to Steffon a lot about these issues over the last couple of years,” said Wilkinson.

“He is playing such brilliant rugby and is so happy over there.

“You can see how it makes sense for him. That’s not how it was over here.

“After all those injuries I went to Toulon and it just happened.

“If it were me and they said ‘come back’ then I would have needed very big guarantees.

“You can’t do that.

“All they can say to Steffon is ‘maybe you’d have a shot at it (England), come and compete’, but he is giving up so much.

“Steffon can’t give that, and also Stuart can’t guarantee it would be the same for him over here.”

Armitage has helped guide Toulon to an unprecedented three consecutive European titles as the Cote d’Azur outfit dominate the northern hemisphere’s club rugby.

The 29-year-old has just five England caps to his name despite that sizeable silverware haul, a situation unlikely to change unless he returns to the Premiership.

Armitage was not considered for World Cup selection courtesy of plying his trade in Toulon, with Toulouse’s Toby Flood and Clermont’s Nick Abendanon others ineligible for Test action.

Captain Chris Robshaw holds down the openside berth in head coach Stuart Lancaster’s England side, the Harlequins flanker offering an entirely different back-row approach.

Wilkinson believes Armitage’s turnover-hunting style would not dovetail with Robshaw’s workaholic approach within Lancaster’s structure.

The 91-cap former fly-half has backed Armitage for staying put in Toulon – and also England for sticking to their guns on their overseas policy.

“It disrupts the dynamic in the squad already, Chris Robshaw and all the other guys in the back-row doing what they are doing brilliantly,” said Wilkinson.

“You would have to ask ‘why are we doing this?’ For England it would be disruptive for everyone.

“Of course there is the side that says Stefan comes in, does amazingly, England win the World Cup final because he steals the ball in the last minute, or whatever.

“You could say all of that but you have to make big decisions about people’s livelihoods and the long-term future of Steffon and the boys in the England team at the moment, who deserve to be there.”

Published: Wednesday 10th June 2015 by The News Editor

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