What is it with the England Saxons and full-backs? When the new coach of the national second string, Jon Callard, performed the role during his playing days with Bath, he earned himself the nickname "Mr Stroppy". And who does he find himself managing ahead of this weekend's intriguing game with the Irish Wolfhounds in Exeter? Why, none other than Delon Armitage, by some distance the stroppiest individual in recent rugby memory.
Armitage was a first-choice back for his country during last autumn's benighted World Cup in New Zealand, but found himself jettisoned from the elite squad the moment Stuart Lancaster took over on a caretaker basis, largely because of disciplinary issues.
"I've played years of Premiership rugby and I haven't seen anyone who gets it right every single time," the unsettled London Irish man said yesterday. "It's just that I get it wrong more than others. I'm passionate and I'm hungry, but I have to accept there are rules, which are there for a reason. However, I also feel a little victimised. There are things I see happen on the field that aren't pulled up by the referee, but I've made a name for myself and once you're branded, that's it."
If Armitage thought his demotion to the Saxons – a development resulting as much from his own misdemeanours as from Mike Brown's spectacular run of form at Harlequins – would remove him from the firing line for a while, he was sadly mistaken. At the weekend, the Scotland coach, Andy Robinson, cranked up the heat ahead of the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield in 10 days' time by describing the full-back as "arrogant" and admitting that he had wanted him cited for a dodgy tackle towards the end of the World Cup pool game in Auckland in October.
Unsurprisingly, given his combative streak, Armitage declined to let this pass. "I was disappointed with what Andy had to say," he said. "If wanting to win the World Cup – to play your best and go all the way – is arrogant, then I'm guilty. If I was a coach, I wouldn't be too impressed with myself if I tried to get a player cited. If that's what makes Andy happy, fine. It's one guy's opinion. I don't see what it has to do with the Six Nations. I'm not even in the squad."
Robinson has better things to think about, suddenly. The former England coach, now on an extended contract north of the border, confirmed yesterday that he had lost one of his go-to forwards, the hard-tackling Saracens flanker Kelly Brown, for the entire competition. He had wanted Brown, who suffered a knee dislocation in his club's Heineken Cup victory over Treviso in Italy last Sunday and will undergo surgery, to lead the side against England. Instead, he has turned to the long-serving hooker Ross Ford.
Back in the Saxons camp, there was concern over the weekend availability of the Leicester scrum-half Micky Young, one of only two No 9s in Callard's party. Young will appear before an independent European Rugby Cup disciplinary officer on Friday, charged with making contact with the eyes of the Italian wing Giiulio Toniolatti during the Tigers' game against Aironi at the weekend. If the allegation is upheld, he can expect to be banned for a minimum of three months.
Meanwhile, Sale announced that the Lions prop Andrew Sheridan, long linked with a move to France, will join Jonny Wilkinson and company in Toulon at the end of the season – a decision that marks the end of Sheridan's England career.
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