Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Brothers set to line-up at Twickenham

SIBLING SUCCESSES Trinidad-born Delon and Steffon Armitage played junior rugby in France and Delon even played three times for the French Under-16 team

AFP , BAGSHOT, ENGLAND

Steffon and Delon Armitage will become the ninth set of brothers to play for England when they take the field for Saturday’s Six Nations opener at home to Italy.

And few will be able to match the physical and emotional journey which has taken them from Trinidad, via France, to Twickenham.

Steffon Armitage, a dynamic back-row forward, is set to make his Test debut this weekend after being named on Tuesday at openside flanker following injuries to Michael Lipman, Lewis Moody and Tom Rees.

Full-back Delon, older by two years at 25, was one of the few England successes during their lackluster November series where he made his debut against the Pacific Islanders and it was no surprise when he was retained in the team announced by manager Martin Johnson.

The London Irish duo are the first siblings to play in the same England side since Rory and Tony Underwood back in 1995 and Steffon, with a hint of a grin, said: “I’m pretty happy we’re both in there and so proud of Delon for getting there before me.”

“My heart is still pumping to finally get the call,” he said at England’s training base after Johnson unveiled the team.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t sleep before any game. I get so nervous and go into every game thinking it’s my last one because I want to do my best in every game,” Steffon said.

The Armitages were born in Trinidad, two of five brothers. The family moved to England when their mother, Verna, married their English stepfather John Armitage.

They were soon on the move again, this time to France, where Delon and Steffon played junior rugby for the Racing Club of Nice.

Delon made three appearances for the France Under-16 team but was often told he was too slight to have a future as a rugby player while Steffon had to cope with people saying he was too small to be a back-row forward.

But, fortunately for the brothers, they didn’t pay attention and nor did London Irish when the family returned to England.

“Playing on my own was brilliant but to have my brother there now, I’m speechless,” Delon said. “If we get a chance to stand next to each other at the national anthem we probably will sing together and probably shed a couple of tears.”

“We’ve got to concentrate on our own games, but we’ll have little talks in the game to keep us on the right track,” he said.

“If he makes a mistake I’ll give him a tap on the shoulder like I would at London Irish to make sure he forgets about it because there’s no point dwelling on things,” Delon said.

The long road the duo have taken to England selection is not one that can be measured in distance alone.

The rise of the Armitage brothers in a sport that, in England particularly, often struggles to overcome the perception that it is the sole preserve of those from white middle-class and public school [privately educated] backgrounds, is almost as noteworthy as them being in the same Test team.

“I found it really tough coming out of Richmond College [in south-west London], trying to get into Middlesex Schools teams,” Delon said. “There were always public school guys in there above you.”

“But for Steff going to Ivybridge [a state secondary school in Devon, southwest England, specializing in sport] and me going to Richmond College, it’s good for English rugby,” he said.

“It actually shows they are looking on a wider scale and not just at the public schools,” he said.

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