Rugby

England’s Manu Tuilagi to join French side Bayonne

The 32-year-old will leave Sale at the end of the season in a move which marks the likely end of his international career.

Manu Tuilagi may have played his final match for England
Manu Tuilagi Manu Tuilagi may have played his final match for England (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Bayonne have announced the signing of England centre Manu Tuilagi from Sale on a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old will join the French club at the end of the season in a move likely to bring an end to his Test career.

Rugby Football Union regulations dictate any player departing the Gallagher Premiership becomes ineligible for international selection.

A short statement on Bayonne’s website read: “England centre Manu Tuilagi has signed for the next two seasons. Welcome Manu!”

Tuilagi won his 60th – and likely final – England cap in Saturday’s 33-31 Guinness Six Nations defeat by France in Lyon.

Earlier on Tuesday, the former Leicester player outlined ambitions of helping Sale lift the Premiership title as he confirmed his decision to leave Alex Sanderson’s side.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time at Sale,” he told the club website. “It was a really tough conversation with Al, and a tough decision for everyone because my family and I have been really happy here.

Manu Tuilagi has been England’s most powerful back since making his debut in 2011
Manu Tuilagi has been England’s most powerful back since making his debut in 2011 Manu Tuilagi has been England’s most powerful back since making his debut in 2011 (David Davies/PA)

“I never thought I’d leave Leicester and it was a big move, but since arriving here I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve developed as a player, but more so as a person.

“The environment at Sale is amazing. It’s what makes me want to get out of bed and put the work in, and I genuinely love coming in every day.

“If I’ve helped the young players then that’s great, but they’ve helped me so much too and I’m going to miss them all.

“The mindset from the start of the season was to win the Premiership and that’s what we’re all focused on now. Knowing it’s my last season here will give me an extra push to make sure I leave on a high.”

Tuilagi has been an automatic pick in the midfield for four successive England coaches due to the power he provides on both sides of the ball.

However, his career has been heavily interrupted by a number of serious injuries, including groin, chest, hamstring, knee and a broken hand.

Sale currently sit seventh in the Premiership table.

Sharks director of rugby Sanderson said: “We talked about what was best for the club and what was best for Manu and his family, and we had to make a tough decision. But it’s still a wrench and really tough for me to accept that he’s going.

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson hailed the departing Manu Tuilagi as one of the world’s best players
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson hailed the departing Manu Tuilagi as one of the world’s best players Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson hailed the departing Manu Tuilagi as one of the world’s best players (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He is one of the world’s best players and one of the world’s best blokes. There are very few people who can do what he can on the field. As a player he’s every bit as good as I thought he was before I came here, but as a person he continues to surprise and inspire me to be better.

“We’ll miss him massively on the field, but the void he leaves off it will be harder to fill.

“His smile is the same whether he’s running on to the field ready to smash someone, or sitting opposite you having a glass of wine, and I’m really going to miss that.”