Ford still retains hope of landing star Armitage

Ross McLean
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Armitage is keen to resume England career
BATH head coach Mike Ford has refused to give up hope of striking a deal to lure reigning European player of the year Steffon Armitage to the Recreation Ground, despite admitting negotiations with Toulon have stalled.

Bath are currently in the market for back-row cover with Francois Louw, Matt Garvey, Alafoti Fa’osiliva and Carl Fearns all sidelined through injury and Leroy Houston facing potential suspension for an indiscretion against Wasps on Sunday.

The deal would suit all parties given the Rugby Football Union’s stance on only selecting overseas-based players for international duty in exceptional circumstances and flanker Armitage’s desire to force his way into Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup plans.

The 29-year-old, who has five England caps to his name, has been a revelation since his move to France from London Irish in 2011 and played a principal role as Toulon defended their Heineken Cup crown this year, ticking plenty of boxes for Ford.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen now unless high-level people come to an agreement,” said Ford. “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.

“Steffon was very keen on playing for his country at the World Cup and keen on playing for Bath.

“Ultimately, he was happy to leave the European champions to play for England at the World Cup. He knew he wouldn’t walk into the England squad and would have to play very good rugby to do that.”

Premiership guidelines permit clubs to spend up to £400,000 on cover for a like-for-like player who has been injured and subsequently ruled out for at least 12 weeks.

While Toulon may be indulging in a spot of posturing and playing a long-game, any deal would collapse should Armitage become cup-tied by representing the French side against Scarlets in the European Rugby Champions Cup on Sunday.