Delon Armitage was one of the few England successes at the World Cup in New Zealand, proving a credible alternative on the wing and showing the kind of form that saw him win the first of his 26 caps in 2008. We asked the London Irish man to look back at his route to the top of the game…
I grew up in Trinidad, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of rugby, so I had little or no contact with the game in my early years.
I discovered rugby when I was nine because my stepdad brought me to England and he played for Hatfield at No 8.
I didn’t like rugby when I started playing at Sudbury Court. There was no tag rugby then and initially I didn’t enjoy the tackling and physicality.
I remember it was very cold at their ground, which was next door to Wasps. I didn’t like that – it was nothing like Trinidad!
The breakthrough came when we moved to Richmond and I went into a better mini set-up there. The atmosphere at the Athletic Ground was totally different to anything I’d experienced.
My brothers also took part. Steffon was in the age group below me and Bevon was in the group above, so it was a social event for dads and lads, and we enjoyed every minute.
I started on the wing before moving to centre and full-back.
The more rugby I played, the more I enjoyed it. We’d go down to Richmond on a Sunday and would stay from 10am to 4pm, with Mum happy to get all the boys out of the house at once!
My competitive streak comes from my mum and I wasn’t happy when life for me began in the C team, but I soon got my chance to move up. We had a good team, winning a lot of trophies, so at that age I was always scoring and enjoying it.
We moved to France when I was 13, to just outside Nice, and one of the first things I asked was, ‘Where will I play my rugby?’ I was very committed.
A big change is how I’d describe playing in Nice. Rugby was played on a full pitch and it became much more physical. I saw my younger brother, Guy, playing with the under-fives, and even they were tackling!
The French are very passionate and if we lost, guys were in tears. I’d never seen that before. In England, if we lost we accepted the opposition were better on the day. But that change in attitude didn’t put me off.
I was up against guys like Freddie Michalak, Vincent Clerc and Yannick Nyanga when I went for France U16 trials. They all went on to play for France, but I was told I was too small and skinny.
The turning point came after I was told I wouldn’t make it in France. I’d stayed in touch with Richmond and went on tour with them at U17 level to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. There I met Edwin Doran (a leading light at Richmond and sports tour organiser) and he said, “Come to England, live with me and I promise you’ll play for England.”
That belief really pushed me on. I lived with Edwin for two years, went to Richmond College, and then I got my chance at London Irish. Corin Palmer and Toby Booth spotted me and said, “We can make you into a professional rugby player.”
My competitive edge has got in my way at times as I want to win too much. I’m controlling it now but need to ensure I don’t lose my edge while controlling it.
I set goals each season and Toby Booth tries to make sure I achieve them. Mike Catt has also been a key influence. When I started to doubt myself he’d say to me, “You will get 50 caps” and that belief made me stronger.
I try to come back stronger every time I get knocked down. It makes me work harder and I try to give every situation everything I’ve got.
This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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