While we watch young guns such as Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi steal the show for England, it seems only right to refresh rugby fans with news regarding our former internationals now playing overseas. It would be fair to say a few of our forgotten internationals have found form since playing for teams in France, and it seems the mix of sun, sea and fresh air is by far the best antidote.
The first and most obvious player on the agenda is rugby’s golden boy Jonny Wilkinson. He has played his trade on the French coast for a number of years now, and after reading his latest autobiography it seems he owes his career rejuvenation to his new side Toulon. The 2003 World Cup winner has become a crowd favourite at the Stade Mayol since signing for the French side in 2009.
Toulon is where Jonny’s heart is now and with former internationals like Matt Giteau and Joe Van Nierkerk around him, the ex Newcastle man has been showing some great form of late. Just last week he notched up 14 points in a bruising encounter with Montpellier, taking his team to third in the French Top 14.
As we’re on the subject of Toulon, a certain loose forward is playing some of the best rugby of his career but will he ever get another look in for England? Steffon Armitage is the inform English openside at the moment and with a current lack of out and out seven, a future call up for Armitage is surely on the cards?
The fact is we continuously talk of Tom Wood fulfilling the number seven role, but how long can he stay fit for? I cant help but ever so slightly liken Wood to Wasps flanker Tom Rees, he was meant to be a future England captain and superstar openside, but a continuous string of injuries and poor form has knocked the guy to the bottom of the pecking order.
It would have been nice to have seen Wood captaining the team but there’s no taking away that Chris Robshaw is doing a great job for England as skipper, and as a seven. It’s just a shame he doesn’t possess that poaching attribute that players such as Sam Warburton, Thierry Dusautoir and Ross Rennie do. I just think its time we picked in form players, rather than letting a player just fill a gap. I realize Wood is now fit but if he keeps picking up injuries, surely Armitage should be considered?
If you would like some reassurance check out the try saving tackle he made on Stade Francais winger Paul Sackey a few weeks ago, I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
In a similar case to Armitage former Gloucester, England and now Biarritz full back Ian Balshaw is a player who slots comfortably into the full back role for every Biarritz game. He much like Wilkinson has become a favourite down in South West France with his quick feet and eye for the gap. Lets remember it was former England manager Martin Johnson who left Balshaw out of both elite and Saxons squad when he took over in April 2008, and wasn’t he as influential as everyone thought he would be, not particularly.
Overall Balshaw may have had a good career with England but whether you like him or not there’s a strong case to say he could have had a longer one. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting a recall for Balshaw as there are many full backs ready to step up, but lets just consider what could have been?
Another individual who I rated as a player was Jamie Noon, he had a promising career with England and provided some much needed bulk in England’s midfield for many years. Since the disaster tour to New Zealand in 2008 the guy fell out of England contention and moved abroad to Brive. Since the change in scene he has established himself as a regular starter alongside forgotten England fly half Shane Geraghty. It’s probably fair to say that Geraghty was never really used to his full capability, and is a player who could have achieved a lot more for his country.
I imagine as the years go on more players will flock to France in search of a bigger paycheck and a St Tropez glow. Just recently we’ve seen another talented player Luke Narraway make his exodus to Perpignan for next season, so what are your thoughts on his move?
Finally, do you believe Wilkinson, Balshaw, and Noon’s careers have been boosted since moving to France, and if Steffon Armitage continues his good run of form, is he inline for an England re-call?
by Dan Newman