Armitage has revealed his regret over becoming embroiled in a Twitter row with ex-England hooker Brian Moore following last month’s Heineken Cup final in Dublin.
His wave to Clermont Auvergne fly-half Brock James in the act of scoring Toulon’s match-winning try, which provoked Moore’s ire, also went down like a lead balloon in France, where opposition fans have been giving England’s former fullback dog’s abuse as well.
Armitage was mercilessly, and loudly, heckled during Toulon’s Top 14 semi-final and final matches against Toulouse and Castres, but he insists the wave to James was simply banter in response to goading by Clermont players.
Moore thought otherwise, claiming on Twitter that he would have “chinned” anyone who had done that to him. Armitage unwisely replied: “Anytime you fat p****! Go write another s*** book,” prompting a media storm.
Armitage, no stranger to controversy during his time in England, told The Rugby Paper: “I made the error of replying to Brian Moore and that kicked off a bit. With hindsight I should have let him have his little dig at me and just got on with it.
“I just lost my head a bit in trying to celebrate us winning and that was obviously disappointing. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did to Brian Moore, but for me it was just a bit of banter and Brock didn’t take it seriously.
“There’d been a bit of niggle during the game and when they scored their second try to go 15-6 up a few of their guys were goading us, saying the match was over and that we might as well take our boots off and go home.
“I didn’t see my wave to Brock as anything more than banter in return but obviously it upset a lot of people, especially some ex-players.
“The emotion of the moment probably got the better of me but it was just a bit of fun. There was nothing malicious and I’ve seen other players do it, but probably not in a Heineken Cup final.
“I’ve been getting a lot of whistles from opposition fans ever since, which doesn’t bother me but is disappointing for my family to hear.
“I don’t want to be Public Enemy No.1 in France, although our centre Mathieu Bastareaud is quite pleased. He had it after what happened to him in New Zealand and he’s already thanked me in the French media for taking the heat off him!”
Bastareaud had claimed to have suffered an unprovoked attack in order to explain facial injuries suffered in a drunken fall in his hotel room.
Armitage’s spat with Moore and subsequent vilification took some gloss off his splendid first season at Toulon.
He feels a better player for the experience and regrets that England have turned against those playing abroad.
“People say you move abroad and absent yourself from your country, but for me personally, it’s made me a better player and I wish I’d done it earlier,” he said.
“You’re playing against international, world-class players every single week in the Top 14 and that can only make you a better player, so I disagree that moving abroad should count against people.
“If you’re playing well in France, it makes you more confident. I think it’s made me a stronger, better and smarter player and although England might not believe so, I think Wales and Ireland will benefit from having guys there.”
Armitage last week took part in a fund-raiser on behalf of Brixham Rugby Club, where brothers Steffon, Guy and Joel came through the ranks and his mother and stepfather own a restaurant.
“The folks are from down there and they just asked if we could help out, so Steffon and I grabbed a load of kit and we auctioned it off,” he said.
Toulon report back for pre-season training on July 15 when much of the focus will be on winning the Top 14 title after the disappointment of losing this year’s final, 19-14 to outsiders Castres.
“We just ran out of steam in the end,” Armitage sighed. “But it was a dream come true to win the Heineken Cup and to do it by beating tough teams like Leicester, Saracens and Clermont along the way made it all the more special.
“I’ve got some great pictures and videos of the reception we got when we paraded the cup in Toulon and I’d never seen anything like that before, so if we can go on and win the Top 14 next season it will be absolute carnage down there.
“Our supporters would probably prefer us to win the Top 14 over the Heineken and that will be a massive focus for us next year. But we’ll not give up on the Heineken and we’d like to do what Leinster did and win it back-to-back.”
As for overcoming his own notoriety, Armitage adds: “People have their opinion of me and that’s up to them. Obviously on the field I can be a bit over the top, but it’s because I’m passionate about what I do.
“Things sometimes go wrong but rugby is still a fun game I love playing. People highlight the bad stuff but I put myself there sometimes and I’ll just try to put it behind me.”
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