Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage is back in the England frame and he is determined to play on the international stage once again.
Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage is back in the frame for England selection and he is determined to play on the international stage again.
The 28-year-old former London Irish stalwart last represented his country in 2009 but held talks with England boss Stuart Lancaster in Toulon on Monday in which Lancaster clarified the player's future availabilty.
Armitage has been of Toulon's best players this season and is sure to feature prominently when his side face Muster in their Heineken Cup semi-final in Marseille on Sunday.
He signed a three-year deal with Toulon in November which appeared to rule him out of international selection as the Rugby Football Union has a policy of not selecting players outside of the English game.
But Armitage and his brother, full-back Delon – who was also in the talks with Lancaster – have been given renewed hope after meeting Lancaster.
“Stuart said that the RFU rules are probably not going to change but that the door is not wholly closed,” Steffon told the Telegraph.
“England want to put the best team out for the Rugby World Cup and they are just looking into the situation as to what any availability might be for camps and stuff.
“None of that is up to me. All I can do, and want to do, is keep my head down and play as well as I can.
“Of course I'd love to play for England again. I have never given up on that. I knew what the consequences were when I extended my contract but I knew that I wanted to be the best player I could possibly be and that means staying here.
“At least I know now that I am not completely out of people's minds.”
Lancaster supports the RFU policy and is aware that several of England's leading players could head to France after the World Cup if those restrictions were eased.
That policy will stay in place, however. But Lancaster also knows that he can't afford to ignore a player Armitage's calibre if there were to be a back-row injury crisis just prior to the 2015 World Cup.
Therefore the option of selecting someone in “exceptional circumstances” is something which Lancasterneeded to explain to the Armitage brothers in person.
In the past, there were suggestions that questionable conditioning or attitude problems was the cause of their exclusion. Lancaster has assured them that is not the case.
Release dates from Toulon is still an obstacle but Armitage knows that his form has not gone unnoticed.
“I'm definitely a better player than when I won my England caps,” added Armitage.
“How could you not be, listening and learning from the likes of [South Africa internationals] Joe van Niekerk, Juan Smith, Bakkies Botha or [Argentina player] Juan Martin FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe?
“You have to be on your toes every minute of every day here at Toulon. Fifteen people get signed, 15 leave the club.
“You don't know who will be coming through that door next. Richie McCaw? Very possible. It is what drives me. I've got to be right on top of my game.”