Six Nations
Armitage suspended as Lancaster takes tough line
ESPNscrum Staff
January 30, 2012
England interim head coach Stuart Lancaster chats to the press, Loughborough, England, January 4, 2012
Stuart Lancaster insists he is winning the battle to reform the England set-up © Getty Images

England boss Stuart Lancaster has vowed to stick to his hard-line approach to discipline and is adamant it is working.

Lancaster's appointment today of Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw as England skipper for the Six Nations opener against Scotland next weekend was overshadowed by Delon Armitage's arrest following an alleged assault in a Torquay nightclub.

It comes in the same month that Quins scrum-half Danny Care was told by Lancaster that he would not be considered for England Six Nations selection this season. Care was arrested for drink-driving on New Year's Day. He subsequently appeared before Southampton magistrates, where he admitted a drink-driving charge. He was fined £3,000 and banned from driving for 16 months.

Armitage, 28, has been suspended from the England Saxons elite player squad after his arrest, the Rugby Football Union said. London Irish back Armitage was detained by Devon and Cornwall Police following an incident early on January 29, and later released on bail. He had started at full-back when England Saxons beat the Irish Wolfhounds 23-17 in Exeter on Saturday.

In a statement, Devon and Cornwall police said: "In the early hours of Sunday the 29th January 2012 a 28-year-old man from the Middlesex area was arrested in Torquay on suspicion of assault following an altercation in a local nightclub.

"The man was taken to Torquay police station and interviewed regarding the incident. He was later released on police bail until 21 March 2012 while investigations continue. A local man received a split lip during the incident but did not require medical treatment."

Lancaster, who is in interim charge of England for the Six Nations following Martin Johnson's post-World Cup resignation, described the Armitage news as "extremely disappointing".

He said: "Certainly, from my point of view, there was no option other than to suspend him until the case has been finalised. So he will not take part in the England A [Saxons] game against Scotland A this weekend, and we will wait to see the conclusion of the case before we take further action, if that's necessary.

"It's extremely disappointing. But, as I've said all along, you can never expect things to go always in a straight line upwards. There are going to be challenges along the way, and this is one of those challenges, but we feel we've acted in the right way.

"Every decision gets made in context and certainly, with my knowledge of the facts, I had no option (but to suspend Armitage) to be honest, and we will see what happens."

England's World Cup campaign in New Zealand last autumn was blighted by off-field problems. Centre Mike Tindall was fined £25,000 and ejected from England's elite player squad following his behaviour during a night out in Queenstown, although he later gained squad reinstatement and had the fine reduced by £10,000 on appeal.

His fellow centre Manu Tuilagi received a £3,000 RFU fine for jumping off a ferry into Auckland harbour, with Chris Ashton and James Haskell each landed suspended £5,000 RFU fines for behaviour towards a Dunedin hotel worker.

Asked why the discipline message was not getting through, Lancaster answered: "The message will get through. I think it just takes some time, and part of it is also getting players to understand you don't put yourself in a vulnerable position, in a situation where you can get yourself in trouble.

"The profile and dynamics of professional rugby union have changed dramatically over the last five years, and more importantly over the last six months. I can't speak for Delon - all I can do is react to the situation. Delon was disappointed to get himself in this position.

"The game finished at about 7pm on Saturday night, and the squad were officially discharged at 9pm - some went home. It wasn't an official night out. The squad had finished and departed, and he decided to go out."

Armitage, whose club will conduct their own investigation into alleged events on the weekend, was banned on four separate occasions in 2011. The England World Cup squad member, capped 26 times, was suspended for eight weeks after he pushed a doping officer following a Premiership game between London Irish and Bath last January.

Then he received a three-week punishment for striking Northampton fly-half Stephen Myler, and he also collected a one-match ban during the World Cup campaign in New Zealand after a high tackle on Scotland full-back Chris Paterson.

Armitage was then hit with a five-week suspension for a dangerous tackle on Bath wing Tom Biggs, and a three-week ban for kneeing Bath lock Dave Attwood in the same game ran concurrently.

Armitage's place in the Saxons squad preparing to face Scotland A in Galashiels on Friday night has been taken by Worcester wing Miles Benjamin. Benjamin, 23, scored five tries in two appearances for the Saxons during last summer's Churchill Cup campaign.

Two other players have also received Saxons call-ups after Bath back Matt Banahan and Leicester number eight Thomas Waldrom were added to the senior England squad preparing to face Scotland next Sunday. London Irish wing Jonathan Joseph takes over from Banahan, with Sale Sharks flanker David Seymour replacing Waldrom.

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