England open door for Armitage brothers' return after Stuart Lancaster's flying visit to the Cote d'Azur
Steffon Armitage's displays for Toulon have prompted calls for his recall to the national side
On the face of it, there is more chance of David Moyes having a stand named after him at Old Trafford than of the exiled Armitage brothers – flanker Steffon, full-back Delon – returning to international rugby with England in time for next year's World Cup.
Neither man has shown the slightest sign of leaving Toulon, the European champions, while the movers and shakers at Twickenham are sticking rigidly to their policy of picking home-based players for the national team. Yet there may just have been what diplomats would call a "subtle repositioning" since Steffon Armitage's blinding performance for the French club in the Heineken Cup victory over Leinster earlier this month – a display that prompted a chorus of calls for his reinstatement at Test level.
Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, flew to the Cote d'Azur on Monday for a meeting with both Armitages, and he did not make the trip purely to inquire after their wellbeing.
At no point did Lancaster suggest that a change of policy was on the cards: had he done so, he would have contradicted the Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie, who reiterated less than a fortnight ago that anyone wanting to play for England needed to be playing in England. The coach was, however, keen to reopen a channel of communication with the brothers, both of whom were capped during Martin Johnson's ill-fated stint as red-rose manager.
"Stuart wanted to talk to them face to face, to hear from them how they saw their careers developing and to tell them that the door wasn't completely closed," said one RFU man close to the England team. "He would very much prefer players blessed with their gifts to be playing their rugby in the Premiership, but he wants to stay in contact. If there are a number of injuries in one position in the run-up to the World Cup, they could come under consideration."
Steffon Armitage, the younger of the two at 28, would probably be in the current England squad had he not left the country in 2011. Equally adept at carrying the ball in open field as he is at winning it on the floor, he caught the eye of the current New Zealand coach Steve Hansen during England's summer trip to the Antipodes four years ago and has made a serious name for himself in Toulon, where he has three years left on his contract. As England have fewer options at open-side flanker than elsewhere in the team, it is not impossible that allowances might be made if circumstances dictate.
Wasps, who face Bath in an Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final on Sunday and may yet qualify for the elite European Rugby Champions Cup next term, have signed the Scotland outside-half Ruaridh Jackson from Glasgow. Jackson will move at the end of the season and join a number of fellow recruits, including the Welsh lock Bradley Davies, the Italian prop Lorenzo Cittadini and the gifted Sale back-rower James Gaskell.
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