The acquisition of the brightest young talents in the country is Bath’s top recruitment priority – but head coach Gary Gold insists reports of an agreement to bring England under-20s fly-half George Ford to the club are wide of the mark.
Talks over a new contract between the highly-rated 19-year-old – named IRB Young Player of the Year in 2011 – and his club, Leicester Tigers, have reportedly broken down.
Ford is said to see his future away from Welford Road, where he currently plays understudy to Toby Flood, and has long been linked with Bath, where his father, Mike, is a first-team coach.
However, Gold said no discussions with Ford had taken place and no deal to sign him had been agreed.
“George is a good player, obviously, and I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and say he isn’t,” said Gold. “But the simple situation is that we are not allowed to speak to players like George because he’s covered by a movement management protocol.
“He hasn’t signed with the club and, at this stage, we are not allowed to have a conversation with him.
“It’s important to point out we have got Tom Heathcote and Stephen Donald under contract here too.
“By the terms set out by the stipulation of the Professional Game Board and the PRL (Premier Rugby Ltd) we are not actually allowed to be speaking to England under-20 players. Nobody is for that matter.
“We are an easy club to link him to, but my understanding is there is no official statement from Leicester on it – it’s all speculation.”
Players of Ford’s ilk remain Bath’s top transfer targets, though, as Gold seeks to build a squad centred on England’s best young players.
“At the beginning of the season we sat down as a recruitment management group and were clear about what we wanted to do, the type of player we want to recruit and what our philosophy is,” said Gold.
“The bulk of what we are looking to go forward with is young English players who are enthusiastic, who as coaches we can develop and who, hopefully, want to be at the club for a long time.
“What we don’t want to do is go out and recruit big names that are, A, coming here for pay days and, B, not necessarily going to be at the club for four, five, six years to come.”
With the backing of owner Bruce Craig, Gold has set his sights on building a new legacy at Bath in the hope of returning the club to its former glory.
“I don’t think these things are quick fixes, but we’ve got the complete backing of Bruce in our philosophy,” he added.
“We pitched it to him and the board and they bought into it. Bruce has been very clear that he wants the direction of the club to be an English club, with English roots and developing players to play for England.
“With Matt Banahan and Lee Mears, we are almost seeing the after-effects from when they were in the academy when (Mike) Catt and Jeremy (Guscott) and all those guys were here and the team was winning.
“I genuinely don’t believe you are going to build culture or legacy by just going out and buying individually very good players.
“We’d rather have guys who are going to have the potential and want to come here, make a difference and really turn the club around.
“In the next couple of years we can build something really special here.”