Habana glad Armitage is out

2014-11-13 08:05
Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)

London - South Africa wing Bryan Habana said he was pleased that Steffon Armitage wouldn't be facing him at Twickenham on Saturday but added his Toulon team-mate was in large part responsible for his England exile.

Armitage may be the reigning European player of the year but by playing for French giants Toulon has made himself unavailable for England, with the Rugby Football Union holding to their policy of selecting overseas-based players only in 'exceptional circumstances'.

English Premiership side Bath attempted to sign the openside flank last month but, in the absence of financial assistance from the RFU, decided the price was too high.

Now it seems that Armitage will play no part when England stage next year's World Cup.

And with South Africa looking to bounce back from their surprise 29-15 defeat by Ireland in Dublin last weekend, Habana was relieved Armitage would not be in the England line-up.

"Nothing against the current England back row, who I think are pretty good, but I'm really happy that I'm not playing against Steffon," Habana said on Wednesday.

"Steffon is an exceptional player, has had a fantastic year and has played a massive role in the success Toulon have achieved over the last two seasons.

"He's playing a brand of rugby that means he should be selected but at this stage England are adhering to their protocols. It's sad that a player of his calibre isn't getting exposed at international level."

However, Habana added: "He definitely wouldn't let that England jersey down, but unfortunately he chose that option a couple of years ago and has to live by his decision.

"As a player you understand the rules and regulations so when you do decide to take an offer overseas coming from a country where those rules are in place, you fully understand what you're getting into.

"I've had chats with Steffon about it. It's difficult for him. He really loves England and loved playing for the country.

"It's frustrating if you've been playing a level of rugby that sees you named European player of the year yet are not playing for your international team.

"It could be a little heartbreaking for him, but it's a decision he's taken and a decision he understands."

England have beaten southern hemisphere giants South Africa, New Zealand and Australia just twice in 12 Tests under coach Stuart Lancaster, with none of those wins against the Springboks, but Habana believes they are an improving side.

"They've been on a very steady upward curve," he said of an England team beaten 24-21 by world champions New Zealand at Twickenham last Saturday.

"They've managed to restore a lot of pride in the jersey and they're playing a brand of rugby that means they can push a lot of top teams very close," he said.

"They're on the up and having the World Cup in England next year they will want to go out and show they deserve to be up there with the best in the world.

"It hasn't been an easy road but they've got to the point where they're respected globally."

It was at Twickenham where the outstanding Habana, one of the best wings of his generation, made his international debut as a try-scoring replacement in 2004.

He has now scored 56 tries in 104 Tests, an impressive strike-rate, and Habana was also a key member of the Springboks' 2007 World Cup-winning team.

But he said Twickenham still held a special place in his affections.

"Making my debut 10 years ago, scoring a try against the then world champions at the home of rugby with your first touch in international rugby is a fairytale start," Habana said.

"We went on to lose that game - 2004 was probably when England were at their best - and my second game at Twickenham in 2006, but the week after we won there.

"When I started out one stand hadn't been properly built. Now you've got 85 000 people singing Swing Low. It is a special place to play rugby."

Read more on:    springboks  |  bryan habana  |  rugby

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