England selection policy tough on Toulon’s Cup final star Armitage

Toulon star Bryan Habana has described it as “sad” that his Heineken Cup-winning colleague Steffon Armitage is unable to flourish on the international stage.

Armitage won the last of his five England caps in 2010 when he played for London Irish.

He joined Toulon a year later and has subsequently not been involved with England as the Rugby Football Union holds a strict policy of not selecting overseas-based players unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

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England head coach Stuart Lancaster recently met Armitage, and he continues to produce world-class performances, underlined by a brilliant display as Toulon retained their European title in the last Heineken Cup final through a 23-6 victory over Saracens.

It appears unlikely, though, that the 28-year-old flanker will be involved in next month’s demanding three-Test series against world champions New Zealand.

“Steff has really been phenomenal, and it is sad that because of where he plays he is not going to go on and achieve high honours,” said Toulon and South Africa wing Habana.

“He gets vital turnovers that get the scoreboard ticking – three, six, nine points – and our team thrives on that. He is a crucial part of the team. He has put his hand up this whole season. People write him off at their own peril.

“As a player, you understand the commitments the countries need to grow their own game and you understand their logic. You respect the decisions made by the administrators.

“But I think a guy like Steffon probably deserves to be playing international rugby. He is a great team man.”

It was Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson who inevitably took centre-stage in his last appearance on British soil before retirement.

England World Cup winner Wilkinson will bow out of the game after the French Top 14 final against Castres in Paris, and he kicked 13 points as Toulon became just the third team after Leicester and Leinster to successfully defend European rugby’s major club crown.