Stevens: Rethink rule for Armitage

Ross McLean
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FORMER England prop Matt Stevens believes head coach Stuart Lancaster should consider waiving the rules on selecting only domestic-based players for international duty in the notable case of back-row forward Steffon Armitage.

Bath this week held talks with Toulon over signing reigning European player of the year Armitage, although the deal is now dead and the 29-year-old will take his place in the French side’s squad for Sunday’s European Champions Cup clash with Welsh outfit Scarlets.

Armitage was said to be keen on a move in order to ignite his World Cup chances in light of the Rugby Football Union’s [RFU] policy of only selecting those playing abroad in exceptional circumstances, although Stevens believes there is merit in adopting a flexible approach.

“I think coming into World Cup year you want to pick your best players and I would like to think Stuart Lancaster could make an exception,” Stevens told City A.M. “There is a huge amount of competition in his position but I played against Steffon in the Heineken Cup final and he is a serious force to be reckoned with, possibly one of the best I have come up against in that position. He has developed so much since moving to France and he is a player that would really benefit England.”

Stevens won 44 England caps before announcing his retirement from Test rugby in 2012 but is in line to make his Twickenham return next month after being selected in the Barbarians squad to face Australia on Saturday 1 November.

And while he would like to see Armitage return from the international wilderness and build on his five appearances, the Natal Sharks forward does see the rationale behind the RFU’s stance. He added: “I understand the reasons for England wanting to keep their players in the Premiership. The country’s top performers playing competitively breeds competition and that produces very good players.”