Steffon Armitage would surely have received a call-up to Eddie Jones’ squad had he moved back to England in the summer. However, given the crisis at openside ahead of the Autumn internationals, why aren’t people calling for his selection as an “exceptional circumstance”?
It’s summer 2015. A World Cup is about to be played on home soil and you have been drawn in the hardest pool in the tournament’s history. Your two main rivals to qualify for the quarter-finals have out-and-out opensides. In fact, they have two each. And in Australia’s case, they are the in-form pair in the world. You don’t even have one.
Except you do, but he plays in the south of France. He’s handy, too. The European Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, a squat wrecking-ball destructive in possession and at the breakdown. But you’re constrained by a clause that overseas-based players will not be selected for England barring an “exceptional circumstance” and you don’t regard him as worthy of exemption.
— Jack (@Jack_Rose79) October 14, 2016
In not picking an in-form Steffon Armitage for the 2015 World Cup, England shut the door firmly on players plying their trade for foreign clubs. It may appear easy to say in hindsight, but England’s need in the World Cup was as exceptional, and yet the clause was not exercised.
Something slightly similar is taking place at the moment as England prepare for the 2016 Autumn internationals. The Red Rose still lack a genuine openside, but now their Plan B, C, and D are all injured. So why is there none of the clamour to pick Armitage that greeted, and blighted, Stuart Lancaster’s reign?
Firstly, it is worth recalling that Armitage could have moved back to England for this season after his Toulon contract expired, but opted to follow his friend Carl Hayman to Top 14 strugglers Pau. That didn’t endear him to many England supporters.
However, the main reason is that England under Eddie Jones are now supremely confident in what they do. Not only has the Australian coach won every match with the Red Rose, but he has the kind of authority that even Martin Johnson never had. Jones currently has the unfailing support of players and media, so it’s no wonder Armitage isn’t being mentioned.
Jones has made the squad insular – in a good way. Lancaster forged togetherness, but Jones has created an Alex Ferguson-esque siege mentality and put the onus on the players to perform. In September, he was categorical that he is not planning for a future life with Manu Tuilagi. “We’re not waiting for him,” he told the BBC. Weaker coaches would keep close tabs on the powerhouse centre. Jones is ruthlessly pragmatic.
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The same is the case with Armitage. Jones’ crystal-clear approach has really helped England. He hasn’t discussed him at all, despite the injury crisis at number seven. No discussion, no distraction. Jones knows it’s the way to get the best out of his team.
England fans, so used to complaining about the make-up of the back row or midfield, have now taken on an ‘Eddie knows best’ approach. It may be sycophantic, and it may not last, but it’s why no one is putting in the French country code into their phone and then dialling 7 for Armitage.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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