England's World Cup chances could hinge on the Steffon Armitage issue

Steffon Armitage might be the key to England's World Cup hopes
Steffon Armitage might be the key to England's World Cup hopes

Steffon Armitage is the key man for England according to one of his Toulon teammates...

Toulon winger Bryan Habana believes England must ignore their policy of not selecting overseas-based players and start picking Steffon Armitage if they are to start competing with the bigger nations ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

The 28-year-old was again excellent as Bernard Laporte's men used their impressive mix of raw power and understated subtlety to battle to a 23-6 win over Saracens on Saturday to become only the third team to successfully defend the Heineken Cup.

Jonny Wilkinson's flawless performance from the kicking tee in his final appearance on British soil may have got the headlines in Cardiff but Armitage and his fellow back-rowers arguably had as much impact on the result, securing a number of precious turnovers.

The display again led to calls from fans and pundits alike for England boss Stuart Lancaster to include him in his squad for the upcoming tour to New Zealand and the pair recently met to discuss the situation.

Armitage currently has five caps to his name but has been ignored by the Red Rose since moving to France in 2011, with the RFU following the example set by New Zealand and Australia of only selecting players based in their own country.

Having scored eight tries in South Africa's successful World Cup campaign in 2007, Habana knows exactly what is required to win the tournament.

The Springbok flyer is sure to be a big part of his own country's plans for next year's tournament and believes England, who host the competition, would benefit from including Armitage.

"Steff has really been phenomenal, and it is sad that because of where he plays he is not going to go on and achieve high honours," said Habana. "He gets vital turnovers that get the scoreboard ticking - three, six, nine points - and our team thrives on that. He is a crucial part of the team.

"The decision is out of our hands, but I think a guy like Steffon, with the season he has had, probably deserves to be playing international rugby. He is a great team man."
Looking ahead to the global showpiece, the likely inclement conditions in England next Autumn means that games are often likely to become wars of attrition, won the on the ground, rather than out wide.

All the big boys are certain to have expert poachers, with New Zealand being skippered by Richie McCaw, Australia featuring the fearless Michael Hooper and Bath's Francois Louw likely to star for the South Africans.

With less than 18 months to go, the one thing England seem to be missing is a genuine openside flanker.

This is something they have lacked since Neil Back's retirement a decade ago and although Chris Robshaw has grown into the role while skippering the side over the last few years, he still has a number of critics within the game who believe his workrate often hides his occasional sluggishness at the breakdown.

Armitage is the total opposite of the current skipper and although he may have been wearing number eight on Saturday, his performance was that of a classic openside, using his low centre of gravity to get in under his larger opponents and secure possession for his team.

The improvement the former London Irishman has made since crossing the Channel has been extremely impressive, with him now a far more complete player than three years ago.
Robshaw is undoubtedly a fine leader but England's lack of a genuine number seven has often stood out against some of the better sides and with less than 18 months to go until the global showpiece, it remains baffling as to why the RFU still won't select one of Europe's best.

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