Steffon Armitage is on the verge of an unforeseen return home to the English Premiership from Toulon. The flanker is rapidly running out of time if he wishes to feature in next year's Rugby World Cup and talks are understood to be taking place about a potential switch to Bath.
Armitage signed a three-year contract extension with Toulon only last November but is keenly aware he will not be considered by England's head coach, Stuart Lancaster, if he is based abroad.
Latterly he has even been exploring the possibility of gaining a French passport and qualifying via their Sevens team but he would be instantly eligible to play for England again if he were to swap the Top 14 for the Premiership.
Toulon's head coach, Bernard Laporte, has not ruled out the possibility of Armitage making such a move, even though the new European Champions' Cup is due to kick off this Friday.
"He has a contract but, if the England coach says if he plays for Bath or Saracens then he will play in the World Cup, I think he has to play for these clubs," Laporte told BBC Sport.
Any move, however, would have to happen within days if Armitage is to be eligible to represent a new club in European competition. “The season has begun,” stressed Laporte. “We have to be quick if he wants to change.”
The 29-year-old won the last of his five England caps in 2010 but has enjoyed a career renaissance beside the Mediterranean. Toulon have won the last two Heineken Cups and he was named last season's European Player of the Year.
He would be a genuine contender for a place in England’s back row if he were to return, his strength and mobility offering Lancaster a potentially exciting option. England’s management are due to announce their squad for the autumn internationals on 22 October, adding further to the sense of a race against time.
With Toulon's owner, Mourad Boudjellal, not keen on a loan move, however, a homecoming for Armitage is not going to come cheap. Bath's owner, Bruce Craig, has extremely deep pockets but there is a salary cap to take into consideration and rugby league's Sam Burgess is already on his way to the club.
The chances of Armitage qualifying for France had become considerably more remote since the International Rugby Board (IRB) clarified he would have to compete in four World Series Sevens tournaments before he could qualify for Les Bleus. As Armitage is not a specialist Sevens player, he is understood to have accepted this may not be practicable.