Steffon Armitage wins European player of the year award
Toulon's Steffon Armitage scores a try during the French Top 14 rugby union match Stade Francais vs RC Toulon at the Grand Stade in Lille, norththern France, on March 30, 2013 - by Denis Charlet
The award comes after the England back-row forward won his fourth European Cup man-of-the-match honour this season as champions Toulon retained their title with a 23-6 win over London club Saracens in the final in Cardiff on Saturday.
Armitage, a constant threat at the breakdown at the Millennium Stadium, finished the tournament with the most turnovers, 19, and also featured in the top 10 in the carries, tackles and defenders beaten categories.
"This is a great honour, and with us winning another Heineken (European) Cup as well, everything has come together at the right time," Armitage, whose brother Delon, the ex-England full-back was also a member of Toulon's team at the weekend, said in a statement issued by tournament organisers European Rugby Cup.
"There are a lot of big names at Toulon, but we're like one big family and without my teammates, this individual award wouldn't have been possible. Also, to follow in the footsteps of Jonny Wilkinson as a winner is really special."
Toulon captain and 2003 World Cup-winning England fly-half great Wilkinson, for whom this coming weekend's Top 14 final against Castres marks his final match before retirement, was also shortlisted for this season's European individual honour as were the Saracens trio of England wing Chris Ashton, Namibia back-row Jacques Burger and South Africa hooker Schalk Brits.
The 28-year-old Armitage won the last of his five caps in 2010 but such has been the back-row forward's form this season that, ahead of next year's World Cup in England, former Red Rose coach Clive Woodward, who lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2003, has called on the Rugby Football Union to alter its policy of only picking players at foreign clubs in "exceptional circumstances".
England coach Stuart Lancaster, speaking Monday after naming a squad for the upcoming tour of New Zealand that didn't include the Toulon star, refused to rule Armitage out of the 2015 World Cup.
"I think it (the ban on overseas players) is a good rule and it's one I support as national coach," said Lancaster before news of Armitage's award was announced.
"That said, there are still exceptional circumstances that allow us to select an overseas player, so who's to say that this time next year if he's still playing as well, that the door might not be open?"