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Some regrets? Yes, but they’re few to mention for Delon Armitage now!

 Delon ArmitageDelon Armitage has opened his heart on why he never wanted to leave England but felt there was no choice if he was to rekindle his love of rugby.

Dumped by England in the wake of a scandal-hit 2011 World Cup campaign and disillusioned at club level following a series of disciplinary issues playing for London Irish, the talented Trinidadian-born full-back stood at one of life’s many crossroads.

This Saturday, Armitage lines up for Toulon against Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup final in Dublin, his 18-month rehabilitation complete. But the 29-year-old admits he still harbours deep misgivings over how his England career ended.

“Getting the chance to play at Twickenham against Saracens the other week, after leaving and knowing I probably wouldn’t get to play there in an England shirt again, brought back a lot of fond memories,” Armitage told The Rugby Paper.

“I never wanted to leave London Irish. I never wanted to leave England. I always wanted to stay and be faithful to one club throughout my career.

“There are regrets, definitely. Coming back from the World Cup, I thought I’d done enough to get another year in the elite squad. But Stuart Lancaster didn’t feel it was right and that’s fair enough, because what he did as interim coach was great.

“I’ve obviously got regrets because I still feel I’ve got more to offer that England team, but I think I made the right decision to move away for a bit and try to get back the love for rugby that I now have in Toulon but had somehow lost back home.

“I got an opportunity with one of the best clubs in Europe, one that has massive ambition to win the Heineken Cup and Top 14. To be in the Heineken Cup final within a year of joining and in with a chance of a double… well, it’s just massive.”

Massive seems a fair word to describe Saturday’s clash between two galactico-filled teams who have arrived in Saturday’s final on merit and which, if referee Alain Rolland allows it, ought to produce a sumptuous feast of running rugby.

Sadly, Rolland chose to whistle Toulon and Saracens rigid when they met in a dull semi-final and Armitage fears another kick-fest.

“That semi-final was tough for both teams but, hopefully, having had Alain already, that’s going to help us going into this final,” Armitage said.

“It was almost as if the team trying to get out of their half playing rugby got penalised, so we worked that out at half-time and decided to play the game down their end. Saracens saw it as well but we just worked it out a bit quicker.”

Toulon lost both their regular season league fixtures to Clermont and will start as underdogs at Lansdowne Road. But Armitage believes his side has a big match mentality and enough quality players to get over the line.

One of those goes by the name of Jonny Wilkinson who, having recovered from last week’s heavy knock, is desperate to claim club silverware.

“To be champions of Europe is probably the next best thing to winning a World Cup and Jonny has been working hard for this,” said Armitage. “He’s alright after his knock. He’s been out practising again on his days off so you just know he’ll be fine.

“It’s not just him, though, we all want to win. There’s a few English boys – me, Andrew Sheridan, Nick Kennedy, my brother Steffon and Simon Shaw, who’s won it before with Wasps – who are desperate to get our hands on this trophy.

“Clermont are one of the best teams in Europe. They don’t tend to just beat teams, they give them a hiding.

“But a strong Leicester team came to the Mayol and we got a result, then to beat Saracens away was massive.   We’ve been good as a ‘team’ and overseas guys like Matt Giteau and Bakkies Botha have really bought into it.

“They didn’t know what the Heineken Cup was but they’ve grabbed this opportunity.”

A return to England one day? Armitage ponders the question, before adding: “You know when you grow up dreaming of playing for the Barbarians? Well, that’s how it feels down here playing alongside these great players every week.

“We all get on really well and living in the south of France, you wake up with a smile every day. You know the weather’s going to be nice, you can always train in a T-shirt and I don’t think we had more than a week of winter.”

We’ll take that as a No!

NEALE HARVEY

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