Delon Armitage was yesterday banned for a total of eight weeks after being found guilty of abusing a doping control officer. The ban rules the fullback out of all but England’s final match of this year’s championship.
The incident occurred following London Irish’s loss to Bath on New Year’s Day. Armitage, selected randomly as one of Irish’s players to be tested, proceeded to abuse the anti doping official with foul and abusive language, as well as using physical force.
The 27 year old England international, capped 19 times thus far, can consider himself lucky. Under the law of the game, any abuse of an official of the sport holds a ban of between six months and life time exclusion. When making his decision Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU’s disciplinary officer, took into consideration the Trinidad born fullback’s relatively good record regarding discipline, his letter of apology to the anti doping officer, and his remorse.
None the less, this still leaves England manager Martin Johnson with a selections headache. Although Armitage, who made his debut in 2008, has recently slipped down the pecking order as England’s first choice number 15 behind Northampton’s Ben Foden, he is still and important member of the squad.
Armitage will be unable to play again until 16 March, just three days prior to England’s final match of the tournament against Ireland. By this time England’s hopes of getting their hands on the 6 Nations trophy will either by coming to a head, or will be left in tatters. Neither of these situations is ideal for a player who will not have played for the past eight weeks to return to.
Johnson is therefore more than likely to call up another fullback into his squad as cover for Foden, who overtook Armitage for the start of England’s four autumn international matches last year. The likely candidate is likely to be one of Nick Abendanon of Bath, Gloucester’s Olly Morgan, or Sales Matthew Tait.
England’s first match of the tournament sees them travel to the Millennium Stadium to take on Wales on 4 February for a Friday night kick-off. This is followed by home matches against Italy, France and Scotland, before Johnson’s squad take to the road again for their match with Ireland.