London Irish 39-17 Exeter, Aviva Premiership, March 26
Armitage targets England return
March 25, 2011
London Irish's Delon Armitage made a strong return to action at the Madejski stadium © Getty Images
Delon Armitage set his sights on this year's World Cup after delivering a man-of-the-match performance on his return from his eight-match ban.
The London Irish full-back took only 40 seconds to make his mark with the opening try in the Exiles' 39-17 Aviva Premiership home win over Exeter. Armitage, who missed the entire Six Nations while serving his suspension for abusing a drug-testing official following the New Year's Day home defeat by Bath, revealed after his comeback that he had joined England for some of their training sessions during the tournament.
"It's been a long eight weeks but it's great to be back," he said. "I tracked Daniel Bowden and when he kicked through I made sure I got there for the try. I just wanted to get back playing in front of our home supporters with the boys who have supported me and helped me out through the hard times.
"It's been really tough watching the guys. With the squad we've got, we haven't been performing the best we can but today we showed we are contenders to be in the top four."
Armitage, who lost his place as England's first-choice full-back to Ben Foden last year, was grateful that England manager Martin Johnson kept him involved while he was suspended. "It was quite tough training, knowing that I couldn't play on the weekend, but I really enjoyed being part of it," he said. "Martin Johnson has been really supportive. He telephoned me, got me down and kept me involved, which I'm really grateful for because I want to be involved.
"It's a big year with the World Cup coming and, with only five league games left, hopefully I can push to get a place in that 30-man squad. I'm pleased for the guys who have been doing really well. It's about winning for England and if Foden and the boys are doing a job and we're winning I'm really happy."
Exiles director of rugby Toby Booth said: "Delon was desperate to play. He had a tenacity and a desire to right the wrongs he put his hand up for and show he does his talking on the pitch, not off it. Class is permanent and he showed that today."
The win enabled London Irish to keep up the pressure for a Premiership play-off place and Booth added: "Exeter scored one try off a mistake by us but we shut out a very strong physical side and defended exceptionally well. If you do that you are very hard to beat."
Rob Baxter, head coach of Exeter who were promoted to the Premiership last summer, said: "You are going to have some tough times, ride with them and take it on the chin - and this game was one of those.
"If you give a side like London Irish, with that many strike runners, that much time then they hurt you. Everyone needs to remember we are still a work in progress."
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