Steffon Armitage and Toulon team-mate arrested over attack

2014 European Player of the Year was set to be part of England’s World Cup plans

England's injury-hit build-up to the Six Nations hit further trouble on Wednesday when their potential World Cup candidate Steffon Armitage was reportedly arrested by French police. According to a French radio station, the flanker and his Toulon team-mate Xavier Chiocci were held in custody at a police station for several hours and questioned about an alleged attack on a 30-year-old man in December that left him with a severe eye injury.

The radio station France Bleu Toulon said the incident at a Mourillon beachside bar had occurred during an alcohol-fuelled party after a victory over Leicester in the European Rugby Champions Cup on 13 December. Both players are understood to have told investigators they have no memory of what happened. No one at Toulon was available for comment.

Armitage was voted the European Player of the Year for 2014 and it is believed England are thinking of including him in their wider training squad before this year's World Cup. The head coach, Stuart Lancaster, however, demands the highest standards of behaviour on and off the field and has so far resisted picking Armitage under the "exceptional circumstances" clause governing France-based players.

Lancaster insists his side will still be competitive in this season's Six Nations despite their lengthening injury list, with the opening game against Wales nine days away. Tom Wood, Kyle Eastmond, Brad Barritt and Geoff Parling will all miss the Cardiff encounter, in addition to the sidelined Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Ben Morgan. The number of English casualties sits at 12 and there could be further bad news. Wood has been sent for a second opinion on his injured ankle, while Eastmond is due to see a specialist about a recurring shoulder problem. Barritt and Parling both have strained knee ligaments but England are hopeful they will be fit to resume training in the week before the home game against Italy.


While Lancaster is doing his best to stay positive he did concede that the weekend injury toll had been “hugely disappointing” for the management so close to the Six Nations. He is due to confirm his starting lineup for the Wales game on Wednesday but is adamant England have enough depth to fill the increasing gaps. “The injury thing isn’t mentioned by us in camp. Players get on with it and deal with it, coaches get on with it and deal with it. It is an uncontrollable so you can’t waste time worrying about it.”

It seems increasingly likely England's starting pack will now include Saracens' lock George Kruis, with the uncapped Graham Kitchener on the bench. But Lancaster has ruled out an emergency midfield call to Bath's Sam Burgess, who is poised to make his representative union debut in Cork this Friday for England Saxons.

England have yet to decide whether to agree to play with the roof of the Millennium Stadium closed but Wales's coach, Warren Gatland, is more concerned with ensuring the home team do not become complacent. "The challenge for us is to make sure we don't allow the injuries to become a distraction and people talk us up too much," said Gatland.

“England will be a strong side whatever happens.” Regardless of the result, he expects a passionate occasion. “I hope the fans don’t drink too much on the Friday afternoon. The town will be pumping and it will be a fantastic atmosphere.”