sport

England overseas ban 'stupid'

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal says England's self-imposed ban on picking overseas-based players is "stupid" amid the clamour for back-rower Steffon Armitage to return to the national set-up.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) implemented the rule to ensure the bulk of the country's top players stayed in the Premiership, where a deal with the clubs means England head coach Stuart Lancaster has guaranteed access to his players for training camps and before Test matches.

But the form of Toulon number eight or flanker Armitage, who again caught the eye with an excellent display against Saracens, has led to calls for the RFU to relax the rule in order to allow him to add to his five England caps, the last of which came against Italy in 2010.

The Heineken Cup winners, who successfully defended the trophy with a 23-6 victory over Saracens in Cardiff on Saturday, have a star-studded squad drawn from across the globe, financed by Boudjellal's millions.

"It's good because it means he just plays for Toulon," Boudjellal told Sky Sports.

"But after that for England and with a World Cup coming up, you have to say you should pick your best players.

English

"Just because Jonny Wilkinson or Steffon Armitage play in France, it doesn't mean they aren't English.

"The coach can do what he wants but it's a stupid rule, really stupid. It's misplaced protectionism and today you're punishing players who aren't always choosing to play abroad for monetary reasons.

"When a player leaves his own country he feels for it more in his heart because he doesn't see it every day, he misses it even more.

"After all that though, it's England's choice."

Sky Sports News pundit and former England fly-half Stuart Barnes said he sympathised with the calls for Armitage, who won four turnovers against Saracens in an all-action display on Saturday, to play for England again.

But Barnes said the "bigger picture" of England's long-term control of their best players meant the RFU was right to stick to its guns.