Bath hopes of glory dented as Matt Garvey’s season ends early

'He’s not in great shape. When someone like him lands badly there’s always going to be some damage'

Bath, back in the shake-up for major honours after an extended period of also-ran anonymity, resigned themselves some time ago to chasing the glittering prizes without their best player, the Springbok flanker Francois Louw. What the West Countrymen did not expect was another injury setback in the same area of the team, affecting the man many consider to be their second-best player: Matt Garvey.

When Bath take on Northampton at the Recreation Ground tomorrow night – a match they must win at all costs, given the intensity of the competition for places in the Premiership play-off phase – they will do so with a back-row unit very different to that on which they have depended for much of the campaign. Louw, who suffered an ankle injury in March, is not certain to feature again this season, although he is up on his feet and may train next week. Garvey? He seems to be a goner as far as the current campaign is concerned.

The 6ft 6in, 20st signing from London Irish has made a serious impact at The Rec, to the extent that many good judges believe him worthy of a place on this summer’s England tour of All Black country. That seems a long shot now. During last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final victory at Wasps, he landed awkwardly at a line-out, rolled his ankle and ended the afternoon on crutches. If he had set out to mimic Louw, who suffered precisely the same misfortune in precisely the same circumstances, he could not have made a better fist of it.

“He’s not in great shape,” admitted the coach Toby Booth, who also completed a lengthy tour of duty at London Irish before heading for Bath and was instrumental in luring Garvey down the M4. “He’s a big guy and when someone like him lands badly there’s always going to be damage. We don’t know the full extent of it, but it doesn’t look like being a short-term problem. It’s bitterly disappointing because he’s been one of our leading performers throughout the year.”

Booth and his colleagues are not bereft of options: Carl Fearns, an England tourist in 2012 and plenty big enough to make a frank and forthright contribution on the blind-side flank, is back on the gallops after orthopaedic hassles of his own, while the Samoa international Alafoti Fa’osiliva is also on the books. For all that, this is grim news for Bath.

Their remaining fixtures are brutally difficult: they must travel to Harlequins, fierce rivals for a play-off place, in the final round of league matches on Saturday week, and face the powerful Northampton again in the Amlin Cup final on 23 May. And if they make the Premiership last four, their opponents will be either Saracens or… Northampton, yet again.

Life might be a little easier if the likes of Bath could spend more of their own money in ways of their own choosing – principally, by strengthening their squads. That, however, is a luxury largely restricted to the leading French clubs, whose purchasing power is significantly greater and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Details of the salary cap arrangements on the far side of the Channel were confirmed yesterday, with the French Top 14 sides keeping their €10m budgets – around £8.2m in what the Premiership fraternity would call “real money” – despite calls for a cut to more sustainable levels. They will also have power to add through a new arrangement with the national team.

Philippe Saint-André, the France coach, will shortly name a group of 30 players, along the lines of the English “elite player squad”, and each will carry a €100,000 (£82,000) price tag. Toulouse, four-time  European champions, are likely to contribute heavily – the backs Maxime Médard, Yoann Huget, Gaël Fickou and, conceivably, Florian Fritz; the half-back Jean-Marc Doussain; the forwards Yoann Maestri, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles. This will take their budget to around €11m, almost £4m more than the English clubs are permitted to spend, even allowing for the one “marquee” player each Premiership side can employ outside the cap.

“There is still a gap,” acknowledged Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, yesterday, “and we’re keen to close it over the coming years. But we don’t have to go for broke on this, especially as the French have seen the value in holding things at their present level for three seasons. We’ve raised our own cap to £5m for next season and with various  add-ons, some teams will be able to spend around £5.7m. It’s our intention to carry on growing our revenues and developing the size of the business, and I’m confident in our ability to do that, especially with the new European competitions coming on stream next season.”

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