Bath are ready to pursue an alternative solution to their back-row injury crisis after their interest in Steffon Armitage hit a financial roadblock.
While head coach Mike Ford has offered a glimmer of hope that a deal to take Armitage to the Recreation Ground can yet be reached, the sums involved in agreeing his release from the remaining two years of his contract at Toulon have so far proved an insurmountable hurdle.
Ford confirmed that both Bath and Armitage were keen on a move that would enable the reigning European player of the year to challenge for a place in England’s squad for the 2015 World Cup.
Overseas-based players are currently only allowed to be selected by England in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Under the Aviva Premiership’s injury dispensation rules, clubs are permitted to spend up to £400,000 on cover for a like-for-like player who has been ruled out for at least 12 weeks.
Armitage, who has been a revelation since swapping London Irish for Toulon in 2011, topped Bath’s list of targets, but they are now ready to turn their attention elsewhere.
“The move would have been fantastic for us and fantastic for England. It did get pretty close to him coming, but it’s not happened,” Ford said.
“It’s bit of a shame really for Steffon, Bath and England.
“Steffon was very keen on playing for his country at the World Cup and keen on playing for Bath. He thinks we’re playing some good rugby.
“He thinks his style would have fit in well here. Ultimately he was happy to leave the European champions to play for England at the World Cup.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen now unless high-level people come to an agreement.
“There’s another player we’re looking at. Everyone knows him and he’s been in the Premiership a while. It’s not that easy when players are at other clubs.”
Ford revealed that if Armitage becomes cup-tied by playing for Toulon in the opening round of the European Rugby Champions Cup this weekend, Bath’s interest will be terminated.
Armitage was recently included in a provisional France squad, subject to his selection by their Sevens team for Olympic qualification.
If his route back with England is denied, he may revisit his interest in representing Les Bleus at the World Cup.