Steffon out to follow in the footsteps of big brother Delon

Steffon Armitage landed in the England squad yesterday, on course to join his big brother Delon at Twickenham for next week’s launch of the Six Nations.

Instead of preparing for his club’s weekend Premiership match at Gloucester, the London Irish flanker found himself whisked off to the Algarve on national duty in line
for a Test debut against Italy on Satur day week.

The Armitage boys, from Pepper Village in Trinidad, are 11 days away from becoming the first brothers to play for England since the Underwoods 14 years ago.


In the England fold: Steffon Armitage has joined his brother Delon in the Algarve

Eager to follow Delon’s shining example, Armitage Mk II had been revving up on the
runway for some weeks before Martin Johnson authorised his take-off from the second-string Saxons in response to injuries to the flankers in the squad.

Fourth choice behind Tom Rees, Lewis Moody and Michael Lipman at the turn of the year, Armitage now finds himself just about the last man standing.

Rees’s recurrence of knee ligament damage and Moody’s broken ankle have ruled both out of the entire championship.

Lipman, knocked out by a nasty clash of heads during Bath’s European Cup tie against Toulouse on Sunday, was cleared to fly to Portugal last night and will be given further health checks today.

Instead of being spoilt for choice at No 7, Johnson now has only one to make - the
uncapped Armitage or the more experienced Lipman.

With the Bath captain still to be given medical clearance and still time for more accidents, Johnson has taken the precaution of calling his most-capped and most versatile back-row forward, Joe Worsley, into the training squad.


Happy family: the Armitages, from left: Guy, Steffon, Bevon, Joel and Delon (right, holding son Cameron), with sister Juanita in front

The 67-Test Wasp has not started an international since the World Cup tie against Samoa in Nantes.

‘I’d argue that Steffon is the form No 7 in the Premiership,’ said London Irish head coach Toby Booth. ‘So, from that perspective, he has done everything required of him to get the opportunity.’

Before the other specialist sevens higher up the pecking order began requiring surgery, England had planned to further Armitage’s apprenticeship at A level, against Portugal at Edgeley Park on Friday night and Ireland in Dublin the following Friday. But they will have no qualms about picking him at senior level.

‘Steffon has been in very good form for London Irish this season,’ Johnson said. ‘He
deserves his opportunity.’

The brothers go about their very different roles in their own distinctive way — Delon the
sleek full back with a 20-speed gear box, Steffon the battleship of a flanker with the same low centre of gravity which made Neil Back a giant for all his comparative shortage of physical stature.

At 5ft 9in, four inches shorter than his brother, one stone heavier at 16 and two years younger at 23, Steffon has been straining at the leash for the last two months.
‘Am I ready?’ he said, repeating the question after starring in Irish’s 30-point rout of
Gloucester before Christmas.


England return: 67-Test veteran Joe Worsley

‘There’s only one way to find out —- and that’s to get out there and do it. I love everything about this game, soaking up the hits and coming back for more.’

His father, John, a Devon travel agent who brought the family first to England, then France and back again after marrying the boys’ mother, Verna, said: ‘I told both
Delon and Steffon one day last July, “One or both of you will play for England next season”.

'I sent the message hoping it might inspire them. Now that Delon’s promise has come to fruition and Steffon has been banging away, my biggest fear will be my wife doing an impression of Mrs Underwood and bouncing around in sheer delight! The boys’ personalities suit their positions. Delon’s more circumspect whereas Steffon
gets straight in there.

‘He is impatient. He thinks he should have played for England as soon as he finished at school, which is good. Once or twice I’ve had to tell him to calm down.’

Steffon learnt how to look after himself amid the frequent free-for-alls of French junior rugby when the family lived in Nice, where Armitage Snr ran an IT business. There are three more brothers, Bevon (26), the eldest, a professional at First Division Doncaster, Guy, an England under-18 triallist and the youngest, 13-year-old Joel, a prop.

In addition to Worsley, England sent for two more training reinforcements yesterday,
Leicester’s veteran lock Ben Kay and the uncapped 6ft 7in Bath wing Matt Banahan.

Harlequins’ Ugo Monye was forced to remain in London for treatment to a back injury
sustained during the home win over the Scarlets.

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