Heaven knows, Delon Armitage has had his share of problems with the rugby authorities over the last 13 months: four suspensions, imposed for misdemeanours ranging from a dangerous tackle to a four-lettered verbal assault on a doping officer, tell their own story. Yesterday, it emerged that the London Irish full-back had landed himself in trouble with the police. As a consequence, he was dropped from the England Saxons squad for this weekend's match against Scotland A in Galashiels.
Armitage was arrested, on suspicion of assault, on Saturday night, hours after helping the Saxons to victory over the Irish Wolfhounds in Exeter – a game that was meant to mark the start of his rehabilitation following successive entanglements with the disciplinary classes. The incident happened in a Torquay nightclub, where a local man was allegedly left nursing a split lip.
Stuart Lancaster, the England caretaker coach who has made it his business to restore the good name of the national side following the gross transgressions that undermined the World Cup campaign in New Zealand last autumn, did not look remotely amused yesterday.
"It's extremely disappointing," he said, after confirming that Armitage was out of the frame for this weekend's game and would stay out of it pending further police inquiries. "I've spoken to Delon and he's disappointed too, at getting himself in this position.
"The game in Exeter finished at 7pm and the players were officially discharged at 9pm, after which they went their separate ways. Delon decided to go out. We're trying to get players to understand that they can't put themselves in vulnerable situations: the profile and dynamics of professional rugby union have changed dramatically, particularly over the last six months, and we have to get the message through. I think it will get through, but if it doesn't – if players can't work it out – they won't be selected or they'll be deselected. There is a code of conduct covering the England elite squad and there are things that won't be tolerated.
"There was no option but to take this action. Now, we must wait to see the conclusion of the case before further action, if any, is taken. I've spoken to Toby Booth [the London Irish head coach] and to Damian Hopley [the chairman of the players' union] and they both agreed with the decision. It's down to the police to make the next move."
Officers released the 28-year-old on police bail until mid-March, by which time they expect to have completed their investigations. London Irish will conduct their own inquiry. It is not clear at what point Armitage will return to the Exiles line-up: there must be a strong possibility that he will miss Premiership games against Harlequins, Newcastle, Northampton and Wasps over the next few weeks.
Lancaster may be new to coaching at Test level, but he is learning fast that the graph does not always head in a northerly direction. One of his first acts on being handed the caretaker role was to wash his hands of the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, following two brushes with the law for drink-related offences – the only course he felt able to take in the wake of the wildly undisciplined World Cup adventure.
As a result of this latest issue, the Worcester wing Miles Benjamin has joined the Saxons party. The 23-year-old scored five tries in the second string's successful Churchill Cup last summer. The highly rated London Irish youngster Jonathan Joseph and the hard-working Sale flanker Dave Seymour could also face Scotland A. They replace Matt Banahan of Bath and Thomas Waldrom of Leicester, who are providing injury cover for the senior squad.
Scotland have lost two players from their Calcutta Cup roster: the centre Joe Ansbro and the prop Alasdair Dickinson, who are suffering from back and shoulder problems respectively. However, the Edinburgh flanker David Denton is back training after a tweaked hamstring forced his withdrawal from a Heineken Cup game between Edinburgh and London Irish nine days ago.
Ireland have rejected the claims of two experienced scrum-halves, Isaac Boss of Leinster and Tomas O'Leary of Munster, ahead of their Six Nations opener against Wales in Dublin on Sunday. Both played for the Wolfhounds at the weekend but they have failed to challenge the senior half-backs, Eoin Reddan and Conor Murray.
Much of the talk in the fair city concerns the outside-centre position, which someone will have to fill in the absence of the injured Brian O'Driscoll. The coach, Declan Kidney, must choose between Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls, although the in-form Ulsterman Andrew Trimble and the Leinster midfielder Fergus McFadden are also in the shake-up.
Bad back: Delon's problems
20 January 2011
Armitage was banned for eight weeks after pushing a doping official. The incident occurred after London Irish's match with Bath and meant the full-back missed England's Six Nations campaign.
Just four matches after returning from his last ban, Armitage was banned for three weeks after punching Saints fly-half Stephen Myler. The ban ruled him out of England's match against the Barbarians and the start of the Saxons' Churchill Cup campaign.
After claiming a place in England's World Cup squad, Armitage missed the quarter-final defeat to France after a dangerous high tackle on Scotland's Chris Paterson during the group stages.
Armitage received his fourth ban of the year after being found guilty of a dangerous tackle and kneeing a player in another match against Bath. The punishment was subsequently reduced to five weeks after Armitage pleaded guilty.
Armitage was suspended from the Saxons squad following his arrest for alleged assault on Saturday.