Sale Sharks have confirmed the signing of Manu Tuilagi until the end of next season. Tuilagi’s acrimonious departure from Leicester Tigers was rubber-stamped last Friday and the 29-year-old centre has secured a move to the Premiership title chasers, ensuring he remains available for England selection.
As reported by the Observer, Sale made the move for Tuilagi once his employment with Leicester had officially ended last week. He was among a handful of Tigers players who refused to accept pay cuts, bringing to an end his 11-year spell at the club.
The Sale director of rugby, Steve Diamond, denied having talks with Tuilagi last week but in confirming his signature, he said that the Sharks moved following talks with Leicester which determined he was a free agent.
The Premiership clubs have a gentleman’s agreement not to sign each other’s players as part of their decision to cut wages and lower the salary cap but in this instance the move suits all parties. As previously reported by the Guardian, however, Tuilagi could still make a claim for compensation from Leicester to make up any shortfall in wages from his £500,000 deal with Leicester.
His move will delight Eddie Jones, who stuck by Tuilagi through his injury problems and was rewarded by the centre playing a leading role in England’s run to the World Cup final last year. During the tournament in Japan, Tuilagi explained how he did not expect to feature at the 2023 World Cup in France but his move to Sale keeps him in the England frame until at least next summer.
He would have been eligible for next summer’s British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa even if he moved abroad but staying in the Premiership means he can prove his form to Warren Gatland this autumn and during next year’s Six Nations.
In the short term, Tuilagi will bolster Sale’s title bid with the Sharks currently second in the Premiership table, five points behind Exeter. He will form a mouthwatering centre partnership with the South African Rohan Janse van Rensburg, while he will also team up with his England colleague Tom Curry and the Springboks World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager. Sale travel to Harlequins for the Premiership’s first match of its restart on 14 August and Diamond will be hoping Tuilagi’s impact is immediate.
Diamond said: “We contacted Manu’s agent and Leicester Tigers last week to discuss the player’s current position. After discussions on Friday, all parties – Leicester Tigers, Manu Tuilagi and Sale Sharks – agreed that the player was a free agent and was able to enter into negotiations with another club. Manu will be a fantastic commercial and playing addition to our squad and I am looking forward to seeing him join up with the lads at Carrington this week.”