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Steffon Armitage to quit Top 14 for the French third tier

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Gaizka Iroz/AFP via Getty Images)

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Former England back-rower Steffon Armitage is set to swap Biarritz and life in the Top 14 for a stint at Nationale level, the third tier in French rugby. The 36-year-old has been with Biarritz since 2019 after five trophy-winning years were followed by a three-year stint with Pau. 

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A five-time capped Test player, Armitage helped Biarritz to secure promotion in the most astonishing fashion last year, landing a penalty to win a sudden-death kicking competition after they have finished level after extra time in the playoff with neighbours Bayonne.

Life back in the top flight for the once powerhouse club of the French game has been difficult, however. They are bottom of the Top 14 following a run of six successive defeats and their relegation back to the second tier could be confirmed this Saturday when they host Castres. 

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Numerous players have already made plans to play elsewhere next season. For instance, ex-Ireland prop James Cronin has reportedly been lined up to fill the gap at Leicester that will be left by the departing Ellis Genge. Armitage, though, will stay in France, deciding it best for him to drop down two levels and continue his career in another coastal city.  

“This is where I started rugby,” explained Armitage to Midi Olympique. “Nice, it’s my favourite place in the world. My wife and I always wanted to go back. I was eight years old, I came from Richmond near London where I played touch rugby. When I arrived on the Cote d’Azur, I really discovered this sport. That is where it all started. This is where I have all my childhood memories. With my friends, Julien Caminati and Lionel Beroud, I had a second family. 

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“I lived in Roquefort les Pins (15kms from Nice) and I was there all the time. We played together and we went five years undefeated. This period is the very symbol of the love of rugby. Stade Nicois remains my favourite club. I am coming to bring them up, to create a new story. I have always taken care to participate in the history of the clubs in which I have played. In Toulon, in Biarritz, today it is the turn of Nice. I want to be part of the memory of this club.

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“I come regularly to Nice. I follow their results and I know quite a few players I have met during my career. I have always been interested in their results. The club knew that I wanted to come back. At the end of the season in Biarritz, I said to myself: ‘Either I stop everything, or I start again on a new project to finish well. It’s not even a question of money anymore, the important thing is to find the right project at the right time’.”

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