Armitage backed to make impact for England

Martin Johnson, the England manager, could be set to launch the international career of "the new Neil Back".

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Martin Johnson, the England manager, could be set to launch the international career of "the new Neil Back" when he names his squad for next month's Six Nations championship today. Steffon Armitage, the London Irish flanker, is likely to earn his first call-up to the national team, alongside his brother Delon, who was one of the few plus points for England as he impressed at full-back during the autumn internationals.

Short of stature, yet high on industry and talent, Armitage is a throwback to Back, the celebrated former No7, who England have struggled to replace since his retirement in 2003. That is the view of his Exiles teammate, Mike Catt, who was a long-term England colleague of Back, a mainstay of the World Cup winning side of 2003. "He's short, but squat - he is a big old lump," Catt said of Armitage, 23. "He just needs a bit more experience and he will be right up there. He can play centre as well - he has everything to be honest."

With Tom Rees, England's first-choice openside, set to miss the first three Six Nations Tests due to injury, Armitage could be thrust into the limelight immediately. Catt believes he will be up to the the task. He added: "Steff is a phenomenal player. "As openside flankers go, there are not too many good ones in the UK at the moment. Him, Tom Rees and Michael Lipman are the three guys fighting for that one position.

"Steff is a great footballer, a great carrier, and his work-rate is huge as well. They [the Armitage brothers] are both pretty young. "Both of them are very talented, and, as long as their heads don't get in the way, they'll be all right. "They can bide their time and when they get the opportunity I'm sure they will take it." pradley@thenational.ae