No Bath move for Armitage

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Bath will be without the services of Steffon Armitage for their Champions Cup campaign after head coach Mike Ford announced that they had failed to agree financial terms with Top 14 side Toulon.

Armitage sought the move to the Recreation Ground in order to win a place in England’s squad for next year’s World Cup, but securing release from his three-year contract with the European champions has proved impossible.

The 29-year-old back row has been included in Toulon’s 24-man squad for Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with the Scarlets and Ford will look elsewhere for back row injury cover.

“It’s a dead deal,” Ford told BBC Radio Five Live.

“Like I said earlier in the week we tried our best to get him, but we just failed to across the line and couldn’t agree the finances with Toulon.

“Steffon plays for Toulon this weekend and it’s a dead deal.”

Ford’s captain Stuart Hooper believes that “quality speaks for itself” ahead of the competition’s kick-off.

Harlequins and Castres will launch the 20-team tournament at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night, with the weekend’s action including Bath’s trip to Glasgow, Saracens hosting Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks entertaining Munster, Northampton visiting Racing Metro and Leicester meeting Ulster.

The competition, formed earlier this year following months of wrangling and often bitter argument, replaces the Heineken Cup as European club rugby prepares for its 20th season.

And Hooper is relishing tackling a qualifying pool that also includes four-time European champions Toulouse and their fellow Top 14 challengers Montpellier.

“We’ve earned the right to be here,” Hooper said.

“We are excited to be part of the main act in arguably the world’s premier club competition. As a city and a group of fans, players and as a club it’s where we want to be.

“The way the competition is set up, teams qualify on merit, so you’ve got the 20 best teams in Europe and the quality speaks for itself. It’s going to be a hugely high standard.

“With the French teams in there in our group, you’re going to come up against some of the best players in the world. They are star-studded teams and it’s definitely a measure of where we’re at.

“By the end of it, you certainly know where you stand. We want to see how we go against the best sides.”

Quins will get the ball rolling, hosting 2013 French champions and 2014 runners-up Castres, and the London club’s rugby director Conor O’Shea is taking little notice of Castres’ league form this term.

Although Quins are currently outside the Aviva Premiership’s top half, Castres only have two teams below them in the Top 14 after losing six of their opening nine league games.

But O’Shea said: “It’s pretty frightening. They might have had an inconsistent start to the season, but they are a brilliant side.

“They are Top 14 champions and finalists over the past two years, so what a massive game to start it off. It’s going to be ferocious.

“The game will be decided by the little things that happen within the match. If they go our way, we will win and everyone will say we’re great, and if they don’t, we will lose and everyone will say we’re terrible and Castres are great.

“That’s how tight this is. Top-level sport is about margins, and if you work hard enough the margins go your way.

“People have this turgid view of the Top 14, but they don’t (play like that), especially Castres. We’ve played them a few times in pre-season over the years and we know the threats they have. This will be a great challenge for us.”

O’Shea has made three changes to the side beaten by Leicester last Friday, with centre George Lowe replacing Tom Casson, scrum-half Danny Care returning after his partner gave birth to the couple’s first child, and hooker Dave Ward is in for Joe Gray.

Castres, meanwhile, will be spearheaded by their outstanding half-back combination of skipper Remi Tales and Rory Kockott, with Scotland internationals Max Evans and Richie Gray also in the starting line-up.

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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