Bath Rugby's Tom Heathcote is ready to fill Olly Barkley void
A month after Olly Barkley's departure from Bath Rugby, the man bidding to be the fly-half's long-term successor is finally ready to stake his case.
Tom Heathcote burst onto the first-team scene last year but saw his preparations for the current campaign cut short after just 20 minutes of pre-season.
A medial collateral ligament injury in his right knee against London Welsh has kept the 20-year-old on the sidelines since August 11, during which time Barkley was tempted across the channel to join Racing Metro.
After making his comeback during Bath United's 20-8 Aviva A League defeat at London Welsh on Monday, Heathcote is hoping to start the process of following in his mentor's footsteps.
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"Barks was a big mentor to me, particularly last year when I was breaking through," said Heathcote. "He gave me a lot of advice and helped me a lot with my game.
"He was such a great player over the last ten or 12 years or so, a huge player in the history of the club and someone I always looked up to growing up as part of the academy.
"It was massively disappointing to lose him but, at the same time, it's also an opportunity to step in and try to fill his boots.
"If I can achieve half of what he did for Bath I'd be pretty happy when it comes to the end of my career."
Following the arrival of an entire new coaching staff, Heathcote's absence means he is still trying to play catch-up in the bid to impress.
For now the main focus is on showing what he can do before attempting to wrestle the number ten jersey from Stephen Donald.
"It's taken me a bit longer than expected to get fit but my knee feels good and I was just glad to get back out there in the A League," said Heathcote.
"Only having 20 minutes in pre-season was a real blow as a youngster trying to establish myself.
"I didn't get the opportunity to show what I could do because, with a whole set of coaches coming in, you want to be training and playing as much as possible to put your case forward.
"You want to be at the forefront, so to not be able to do that was very frustrating. I've got to try and do that now and work hard in the A League to put my claim forward for a place in the team.
"I'm in a similar position to last year, I want to be challenging Stephen and putting pressure on him. If I do get an opportunity like I did before I need to make sure I am ready to take it and hopefully get a run in the side, and stake a claim to stay there as long as possible.
"I got decent game time last year, much more than I expected, and I want to kick on from that now and do a similar thing again. Hopefully I can continue adding to my experience and then in a few years' time have a permanent spot in the side."
Heathcote's penalty gave Bath United an early lead at Imber Court but they could not extend the advantage before the break, even with London Welsh's Mike Denbee sent to the sin-bin.
The home side quickly made them pay at the start of the second half as a penalty try, converted by Alex Davies, gave them the momentum.
Davies then added a penalty before converting Joe Ajuwa's touchdown and a 79th-minute try for Bath's Charlie Beech was little more than a consolation.
There was still time for Welsh to have the final word, however, with Davies finishing proceedings with a drop goal.
Bath Rugby have brought forward their derby clash with Gloucester to Friday, March 1 (8.15pm).
The Aviva Premiership match, due to be played on Saturday, March 2, has been re-arranged for the evening before due to a clash with the same weekend's Bath Half Marathon at The Rec.