AS he stares out over the Côte d’Azur and the bright sun reflects off the crystal- clear French waters, Steffon Armitage lets out a big sigh before managing a wry smile.
‘That’s a very, very sore subject for me,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘Very sore. I’ve still got a few demons when I talk about this.’
The question posed to Armitage is whether English rugby should change its ruling of not selecting players based abroad. Armitage, still going strong at 37, is the unwanted poster boy for this topic after years spent in the wilderness despite his impressive Toulon form. He won just five England caps. It should have been more.
‘The ruling should have been scrapped a long time ago,’ says Armitage, sipping an espresso in a bar on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais. ‘Now I think they have to. A coach’s job is to get the best out of their player.
‘If a player wants to go abroad and experience playing a different game which he can bring back to the England set-up, then why would you say no?
‘English rugby has missed a trick. Quite a lot of players are going to finish their careers and say: “I was told to stay to fight for my England shirt. I stayed and fought, but even though I played my best I didn’t get a chance.” You should never have any regrets in rugby.
‘They told me I wasn’t good enough so I left to become a better player. I did that over here and it still got thrown back in my face. It was hard.’
After stints with Saracens and london Irish, the forward opted for the south of France in 2011 by joining Toulon, bringing an end to his England career as it was only just getting started.
He won three European Cups and was European player of the year in 2013/14. Armitage’s ability was clear, but he was unable to play for first Martin Johnson and then Stuart lancaster due to England’s selection policy.
Now, once again, there is a clamour for change. England flanker Jack Willis, now with Toulouse after the demise of Wasps, is the only current player able to be in France and