Toby Booth’s snub made Guy Armitage turn his back on London Irish

Guy ArmitageGuy Armitage has opened the door to one day playing for France after revealing that Toby Booth’s snub at London Irish forced him to quit the Exiles for big spenders Toulon.
The centre became the latest of the Armitage clan to swap Sunbury for the sun-kissed Cote D’Azur but while his brothers Steffon and Delon made that journey as capped England internationals, Guy arrives as a 20-year-old with just four Premiership replacement appearances to his name.
The Exiles have a well-deserved reputation for developing young talent with Jonathan Joseph becoming the latest academy graduate to be capped by England, but Armitage was left to kick his heels in frustration when he was not even registered in the Heineken Cup squad.
Armitage, who represented England U20s at last year’s Junior World Championship, told The Rugby Paper that it was this decision by ex-Irish director of rugby Toby Booth, which prompted his move and could result in him swapping the Red Rose for Les Bleus.
“It is a possibility,” said Armitage, who grew up in France before moving to the UK aged ten.
“I would have to wait for three years to qualify on residency but that’s when my contract expires, so we will see. It would be an avenue to explore, but at the moment I need to concentrate on pre-season and establishing myself in a quality side.
“My dad (John) said to me if that opportunity came up then he would support me fully and everyone has supported my decision to come here.
“I did not have a great relationship with Toby Booth. It was not like we did not like each other but we just never spoke. More than anything it was when I was told my opportunity would come and it never did.
“I thought I had hit some form and put my best foot forward but when I was not registered for the Heineken Cup I thought I might as well not bother. As soon as other players became available, I was bottom of the pecking order.
“It is very frustrating because some young players get all the opportunities and I can’t put my hand up.
“I was sat on the sidelines wondering what may have been – there were young guys who went to South Africa on the England tour and I wanted to be one of them. I just could not take another season like that one.”
Nevertheless the pain Armitage felt at being overlooked was nothing compared to what he experienced completing the GR20 challenge – covering 200km of mountainous terrain in seven days in Corsica to raise money for Rugby Aide.
Among those accompanying Armitage were big brother Steffon and All Black Carl Hayman plus former Waps and England strongman Simon Shaw – players he will get to know further when pre-season begins this month.
There might seem to be a contradiction in a player lacking game time pitching up to a club whose midfield last season was Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and Mathieu Bastareaud, yet Armitage is adamant he made the right choice.
He added: “It will not be an easy task to get into the Toulon team; I have given myself an incredibly huge challenge, but at the time I felt no matter how well I was playing at Irish I would not get a chance.
“With the quality of players and environment, I will have to raise my game. Bernard (Laporte) told me the direction he was aiming for and how he was building the squad around what he needs. He said he would give me a chance if I am playing well and that’s all I wanted to hear – I felt  it would never happen at Irish.
“Hopefully times at Toulon will never be as tough as the GR20 challenge. But it is clear there’s a great team spirit and when the chips are down I can count on these guys.
“Most people’s spirits were tested by day one or two on the mountains so you had to support each other and you get to know people pretty well.
“Steffon convinced me to come. He said it would be a gentle stroll, stopping at a new bar every night – it wasn’t. It was walking 12 hours a day at your fastest pace in 40 degree heat, often two hours away from the nearest water source.
“Steffon kept me going but was by far the biggest moaner. You’ve never heard so much negativity from one man.”
DANIEL SCHOFIELD

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