Steffon Armitage’s decision to play in France should preclude him from an England call up, according to Harlequins back-rower Nick Easter, who revealed he turned down offers from abroad in a successful bid to rekindle his own Test career.
With Australia relaxing their overseas selection policy to allow the likes of Toulon-based Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell to bid for World Cup selection, Red Rose boss Stuart Lancaster is under huge pressure to pick Armitage in his training squad.
Sir Clive Woodward has described England’s policy of selecting overseas player only in exceptional circumstances as “old-fashioned” and “misguided”. But Easter argues club-mate and England skipper Chris Robshaw would see off Armitage anyway.
Easter told The Rugby Paper: “The rules are made and if you really wanted to play for your country, you’d stay in the country if it was your foremost goal.
“I know that’s been my goal and I’ve had offers to go overseas as well. I wasn’t involved with the England squad when a previous Quins contract was up, but I still believed I could get back into the England set-up and that was my driving force. Everyone’s got an opinion and Steff’s an excellent player. If he gets a chance and manages to prove himself, then all the better for England.
“But currently you’d say Chris Robshaw is the starting No.7 and one of the first names on the teamsheet.
“Robbo’s done an outstanding job for England over the last three-and-a-half years and every time he’s questioned he delivers world-class performances. That should really be enough to silence anyone who’s got doubts over his ability.”
While the Armitage debate rages on, Easter admits he faces a huge battle to achieve his personal goal of making England’s World Cup squad.
But having forced his way back into contention after being dumped in the aftermath of England’s 2011 World Cup disaster, the 36-year-old is determined to apply as much pressure as possible to regular No.8s Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan.
“There are lots of motivating factors and banishing the memories of 2011 is certainly one of them,” said Easter. “It was wonderful to be back at Pennyhill Park for the Six Nations and it certainly didn’t seem like it was three-and-a-half years ago.
“I thought my chance had gone, if I’m honest. I’d been trying to push my case for a long time but it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen.
“But it just goes to show that you’ve got to keep driving and have that carrot, otherwise my performances wouldn’t have been as good as they were. I never gave up, never stopped pushing my case and finally the key to the door turned.
“It was a pity to miss out on the Championship and we were very disappointed how the Six Nations ended. We’re a driven group and everybody’s looking forward to getting together and going for the ultimate prize.”
Of his World Cup prospects, Easter added: “England will probably take around five back-rows and four second-rows and you’ve got Billy Vunipola, who’s playing very well, Robbo, James Haskell and Tom Wood, Ben Morgan and there are others.
“Seven into five doesn’t go so it’s going to be hard, but my aim is to be involved in the preliminary squad and then you’ve got a few months to push your case. It’s important to perform week-in, week-out and show that hunger and desire.”
Easter’s versatility as an auxiliary second row helps his cause. He said: “I have no issue covering lock… it’s just a bit more pushing in the scrum!
“With my lineout work and involvement with the ball, whether carrying or playmaking, it perhaps helps to give teams I’m in more mobility.”
Easter, meanwhile, has taken the first steps along the road to a post-playing career by guiding Wimbledon RFC to promotion as head coach. The dandy ‘Dons’ clinched the London One South title by thrashing Sidcup 54-7 last weekend.
He explained: “The boys put in a great performance against a strong side but six bullets through the heart wouldn’t have stopped them. We got the job done in a very competitive league and their attitude throughout was terrific.
“Nothing beats playing and I’m signed at Quins for another two years, but coaching is certainly something I’d like to explore when I finish.”
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