Steffon Armitage says he is unsure about his England future, as he slams their World Cup efforts
Toulon forward Steffon Armitage has revealed he felt “hurt” and “insulted” by his omission from the England squad for the World Cup - and admits he is unsure if he will make himself available for international selection in future.
Armitage, 30, has played just five times for England in his career – with his emergence as one of the finest back-row forwards in the European game coinciding with his 2011 move to French side Toulon.
The English RFU have a long-standing policy of not picking players who ply their trade outside the Aviva Premiership other than in exceptional circumstances, a policy that officially ruled Armitage – the 2014 European rugby player of the year – out of selection contention.
However, there had been speculation throughout the early part of 2015 that the rules would be relaxed in order to include Armitage – as Australia did, primarily in order to accommodate Toulon centre Matt Giteau, who went on to start Saturday's final – but in the end the English flanker was snubbed by coach Stuart Lancaster.
And the player has now admitted that the whole experience has made him think twice about ever representing England again.
“What happened with England hit me hard. There was talk I’d be involved and all of a sudden that hope was taken away.
“I’ve always played rugby because I love it, but that really hurt. I’m getting the enjoyment back now at Toulon but as far as England goes at the moment I’m undecided.
“Right now my focus is on Toulon. I’m contracted to them until the end of next season and I love it here.”
Watching from afar, Armitage gave a scathing assessment of England’s World Cup performance – which saw Lancaster’s side crash out at the pool stage after defeats to Wales and Australia.
When asked if he was surprised at how things unfolded, Armitage said: “Yes, especially losing two games at home.
“Twickenham’s meant to be a fortress but it didn’t work at all, and I think everyone should be disappointed at the way things happened.”
Armitage’s personal situation was complicated by the fact that, if selected, he would have likely been competing with Chris Robshaw for the No. 7 shirt.
Robshaw has been Lancaster’s hand-picked captain almost since he took over, yet few observers are convinced the Harlequins forward is better than Armitage – and as it transpired some mediocre World Cup performances from Robshaw were accentuated by a disastrous decision to go for the corner in the loss to Wales that helped end their tournament.
Armitage hinted that Robshaw was not pushed as he should have been, if others were competing with him for his starting role.
“I do feel sorry for him, because I think he needed some rivalry (in the England squad) to push him on,” he said. “Whether he’s a world-class seven or not, I can’t judge that, but he always works as hard as he can and gives everything on the pitch.”
On Lancaster, he added: “The coach has his view in not picking me so, all I could do was keep playing rugby. I hoped I might get in but it didn’t happen and I had to deal with it.”
Armitage believes greater rivalry for places could have helped the squad reach the standards required to go further in the competition. Some England players came out before the tournament against Armitage and Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon's potential selections, a stance the player branded “insulting”.
“I know them, played against them, and to hear them say we'd be a distraction if selected was pretty insulting,” he said.
“At the end of the day all we wanted to do was make the team better and I just think it was wrong for players to say what they did.
“We could have learnt from each other and created more rivalry for places.”
Speaking to BT, Abendanon added: "You know, he (Lancaster) never had to pick us but I think he should've brought the guys in to make sure that his players pick it up another level.
"To hear some players say 'Ah, we shouldn't pick international players because it will unsettle the squad' ... that to me is pathetic. That should be something that would motivate you even more to want to keep your place."