Rugby

Manu Tuilagi refuses to say whether France game will be his last for England

Tuilagi has held talks with Top 14 clubs Montpellier and Bayonne in a move that would make the 32-year-old unavailable for Test selection.

Manu Tuilagi could be playing in France next season
Manu Tuilagi Manu Tuilagi could be playing in France next season (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Manu Tuilagi has declined to reveal his plans for next season amid expectation that Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with France would be his final game for England.

Tuilagi has held talks with Top 14 clubs Montpellier and Bayonne in a move that would make the 32-year-old unavailable for Test selection by Steve Borthwick.

It has raised the prospect that if he wins his 60th cap by stepping off the bench in Lyon, it will be the powerful Sale centre’s farewell in a Red Rose jersey.

When asked what his plans for 2024-25 are, Tuilagi replied: “The plan is to hopefully get on the pitch on Saturday. I don’t really know what I am doing tomorrow to be fair!

Manu Tuilagi is a key man for England
Manu Tuilagi Manu Tuilagi is a key man for England (Mike Egerton/PA)

“For me representing England and getting opportunity is a blessing and I can’t wait. Every time I get to represent England it could be the last game.

“Every game could be your last game, so you have got to make the most of it and enjoy it.”

As Tuilagi was speaking at the Groupama Stadium, the electronic curtain that formed the back drop in the press conference room unexpectedly started lowering.

It was an accidental moment of symbolism for a player that England have never been able to adequately replace during his long spells out through injury since making his debut in 2011.

He has been an automatic pick for four successive England coaches, bringing ball carrying clout to the midfield and proving unplayable on his day – even against the best opposition.

It will be hoped that his first appearance of the Six Nations after missing the opening rounds with a groin injury will be a fitting exit if he does follow former team-mates Owen Farrell, Henry Arundell and Joe Marchant across The Channel.

“I feel very blessed to be able to get back into the team. We’ve got an unbelievable team. For me to be able to get this opportunity again – I love it,” Tuilagi said.

“Whenever you get the opportunity to be a part of it it’s a blessing. It’s been an amazing campaign for us.”

Tommy Freeman, pictured, is a big fan of Tuilagi
Tommy Freeman Tommy Freeman, pictured, is a big fan of Tuilagi (John Walton/PA)

When naming him on the bench for the final match of the 2024 Championship, Borthwick described Tuilagi as the social glue for his squad who has the ability to raise the game of his team-mates.

He also spoke of the time taken by the 2013 Lions tourist to help mentor younger players – a contribution appreciated by rookie wing Tommy Freeman.

“Manu is the nicest guy I’ve ever met in my life. The most compassionate, supportive bloke. Very good at coffee art as well,” Freeman said.

“Manu is a class lad to be around, he gives you a hand here and there, he knows exactly what Test rugby is all about, he has been a part of the game for years and he will definitely add wherever he can.

“The impact he has on the game is a big one – the way he moves his weight around gives us lads a bit of energy to spur from.”