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Nathan Hughes, the former England No 8, has joined Bath on loan from near rivals Bristol for the rest of the season.
Hughes has not played for Bristol since facing Exeter Chiefs on New Year's Day, and last week turned out for Hartpury RFC in the Championship. Hughes scored a try and was named player of the match in a 31-31 draw with London Scottish.
The 30 year-old is set to leave Bristol at the end of the season once his contract worth £500,000 per year expires, having joined Bristol ahead of the 2019-20 season from Wasps.
He was last capped by England in 2019 against Scotland in the Six Nations, and with no Test recall imminent under Eddie Jones has discussed switching allegiances to Fiji from March this year, three years after his last England appearance.
With Bath hit hard by back row injuries this season and set to lose Josh Bayliss to Scotland and Taulupe Faletau (yet to play for the club this season) to Wales for the Six Nations, Hughes' arrival is a timely boost for Premiership's bottom club.
Head coach Neal Hatley commented: "We are delighted to secure Nathan's services - he is a destructive ball carrier and provides critical cover throughout the international window.
"I have been fortunate enough to work with him at international level. His experience and attributes, both as a person and a player, mean we are all looking forward to seeing him perform and making an impact for the Blue, Black and Whites."
Analysis: Hughes can add some much-needed bite to Bath's pack if healthy
Perhaps it sums up where Bath are at present that Bristol have no issue loaning one of their players to their nearest rivals in the middle of the season.
“It’s important for Nate to get some regular quality game-time at this stage of the season to enable to get back to his best rugby," said Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam regarding the move. "This is a great opportunity for him and one that suits all parties with our neighbours Bath short of back row options at present.
“Although Nathan has missed out on selection in recent weeks, his attitude and commitment around the environment has been outstanding as he’s played his part in ensuring the team continues to grow and improve on and off the field. I will stay in close dialogue with him over the loan period as he could still play an important part in our season.”
Hughes has been a focal point of Bristol's pack and marketing strategy during his time with the Bears, but that has changed in recent weeks. Fitz Harding's breakout season for Bristol has led to Hughes missing out on selection, which combined with a dip in form has left him short of game time.
Even so, Hughes is clearly too good to be playing in the Championship based on how he took charge of Hartpury's draw on the weekend. “Nathan Hughes was clearly our best player. It’s just a shame that nobody else stepped up to match his efforts," said the Hartpury head coach John Barnes.
If healthy, and all the suggestions are that Hughes currently is having battled a long-standing knee injury in the past, then the benefits of signing Hughes are obvious for Bath, particularly given he'll arrive at The Rec with a point to prove to Lam and Bristol.
While there are multiple problems for Bath to address at present, having just shipped more than 60 points to Leinster, adding Hughes into their back row will provide some welcome momentum for Bath's attack given Hughes' ability to get over the gain line when carrying the ball.
Bath have lacked that physical edge at times this season, among other things, and the option of being able to turn to Hughes in order to make precious ground either while attacking or penned back in their own 22 will be welcomed with open arms by Bath's half-backs.
Bristol can recall him at any point, and he won't be eligible for Bath to face Bristol when the two sides meet in March either. But this is a good pick-up by Bath in the middle of a tough season.
As for Hughes, while he's unlikely to earn a new contract at the same salary as he is currently on, it's a chance to impress new suitors. London Irish have been linked with a move for Hughes, potentially to replace Albert Tuisue who is heading for Gloucester, but with his England career seemingly over there's nothing stopping Hughes from signing a bumper contract in France, potentially for a final pay day. It certainly seems unlikely that he will be a Bristol player next season, given his lack of appearances plus salary cap constraints.
Bath will hope to be able get the best out of Hughes as soon as possible, potentially against Harlequins on Friday night, a player who up until this season has been one of the Premiership's leading No 8s since arriving in the league back in 2013.