Friday, 10 April 2015

First Steffon Armitage, now Nick Abendanon... England boss Stuart Lancaster's exceptionally tricky World Cup problem

If an overseas-based player consistently delivers 'exceptional' performances, does that mean that England head coach Stuart Lancaster should pick him?

Since 2011, the RFU's stated policy on Englishmen plying their trade abroad is that they should only be selected for the national side in "exceptional circumstances".

And so far under Lancaster's reign, circumstances haven't been deemed sufficiently exceptional in order for the clause to the invoked. Although there have been plenty of raised eyebrows along the way.

But what exactly does "exceptional circumstances" mean?

An exceptional run of injuries at home? An exceptional loss of form by home-based players? Or exceptional form by overseas players?

The term is vague - and probably deliberately so, meaning that the RFU has some wiggle room.

The rampaging form of Toulon loose forward Delon Armitage has been testing the meaning of the term for some time. And now we have Nick Abendanon, who has been playing out of his skin for Clermont Auvergne since leaving Bath over the summer.

This blog is a long-standing champion of Abendanon's. And for all those who are suddenly making a big song and dance about him this week in the wake of a stunning performance against Northampton in the Champions Cup on Saturday, I humbly point you in the direction of this post and interview I did with him in February.

Tellingly, Abendanon has picked up three man-of-the-match awards against English teams on the biggest stage in European club rugby this season. He is performing on the big stage. And he is stating a pretty irresistible - sorry, exceptional - case to be called up for the biggest stage of them all: the Rugby World Cup.

For me, it's simple. In a World Cup year of all years, you absolutely have to have your in-form players playing for your country, whether they are playing their club rugby in England, France, Georgia or Venus. To fail to do that - particularly for a Cup on home soil - is daft at best, and a national betrayal at worst.

If Lancaster's still in any doubt, then here's a little clip that hopefully clinches the deal: