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Fissler Confidential: Tuilagi a target as third club chase Lawes

By Neil Fissler
Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes of England pose for a photo inside the England dressing room following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Bronze Final match between Argentina and England at Stade de France on October 27, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The battle to sign former England captain Courtney Lawes appeared to be a straight shoot-out between Pro D2 promotion hopefuls Provence and Brive, but there is a potential spanner in the works.

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RugbyPass understands that this week, a third team from the French second tier made an enquiry to acquire his services for the next two years.

Beziers, second in the Pro D2 table behind Vannes and ahead of Provence, are the team that have entered the bidding with Brive still to put their €35,000 a month contract offer in writing.

Bayonne are locked in talks with Racing 92 centre Francis Saili, who next week celebrates his 33rd birthday, but has an extensive list of possible alternatives.

They have made it clear that the former All Black, who plays at both inside and outside centre and spent three seasons in the Premiership with Harlequins, is their first choice.

But they are also keeping tabs on Scotland’s outside centre Huw Jones, who is in his second spell with Glasgow, while Manu Tuilagi and Rory Hutchinson are also on their watch list of potential recruits.

Ben Donnell, one of five London Irish players who moved to Gloucester last July, appears to be on his way out of Kingsholm despite having a year left on his contract.

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The 23-year-old former England U20s international, who plays at both back row and lock, made 54 appearances for the Exiles before they went out of business last summer and has been attracting interest from Cardiff.

The Welsh capital team have already raided the West Country for Bristol Bears fly-half Callum Sheedy and Donnell, who has played 12 games for the Cherry and Whites this season, could be next through the door.

Sale Sharks want a replacement for Tuilagi and are among a clutch of Premiership clubs that are looking at former Wasps man Sam Spink, who will be out of contract with Western Force in November.

Tuilagi <a href=
Sale contract latest” width=”1920″ height=”1080″ /> Sale midfielder Manu Tuilagi (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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Spink, 24, joined Western Force on a two-year deal in November 2022 when Wasps went out of business and has caught the eye with an impression string of performances, scoring three tries in 11 games.

Leicester Tigers, who are looking to replace Guy Porter who wants to leave Welford Road to return to Australia, are also interested in Spink along with Exeter Chiefs, who have a centre on their shopping list.

It is easy to see why England flanker Lewis Ludlam is swapping Northampton for Toulon this summer. They are paying him a king’s ransom.

Ludlam has signed a three-year deal worth around £450,000 a season to join his former Franklin’s Gardens teammates Dan Biggar and David Ribbans on the Cote d’Azur.

The offer was a no-brainer because Saints were only willing to offer him two years, and even if the RFU offered a £150,000-a-year hybrid top-up, it would have struggled to get near the terms on offer in France.

Bristol speedster Gabriel Ibitoye, whose career has never ignited after early promise, has attracted interest from the Super League for a potential cross-code switch.

Bristol Bath
Bristol Bears’ Gabriel Ibitoye, left (Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Ibitoye, 25, was tipped as the next big thing in his early days at Harlequins but he drifted around Agen, Montpellier and Tel Aviv Heat after leaving The Stoop without making much of an impression.

RugbyPass understands that Super League champions Wigan Warriors made an enquiry earlier in the season but didn’t go as far as making an offer as the league salary cap as £2.1million much smaller than the Premiership.

Stormers centre Dan du Plessis, who has now recovered from a pre-season injury that caused him to miss the first half of the campaign, is being hawked around the URC, Top 14 and Premiership.

The 28-year-old former South African U20s international is an inside centre primarily but has played regularly at outside centre throughout his career, which is now back on track.

He has made 58 appearances and scored 10 tries for the Stormers. He started their URC final defeat to Munster last season but is keen to move abroad to get more regular playing time under his belt next season.

Benetton are continuing to improve their squad for next season by snatching Bath full-back Matt Gallagher from under the noses of his former club Munster, who were the favourites to secure his signature.

Gallagher Bath Premiership
Bath full-back Matt Gallagher (Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

The son of All Blacks legend John, Gallagher was tipped to rejoin Munster next season where he spent two seasons before moving to The Rec three years ago, but they look like missing out.

He is ready to follow Harlequins winger Louis Lynagh to Italy next season, and Benetton aren’t finished with their recruitment with decent cash also available for a big-name No8.

Gloucester and Bath are both in the market for a winger next season, and the name of Newcastle Falcons and England star Adam Radwan has been mentioned as a possible recruit for them both.

Saracens are also looking for someone out wide but are understood to have around £200,000 to spend and are prepared to play a waiting game, hoping to snap up a bargain later on in the market.

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RugbyPass understands, however, that the Falcons are expecting Radwan, 26, who penned a three-year extension last February, to still be at Kingston Park when next season kicks off.

Bristol are ready to step up their efforts to bring players into Ashton Gate as well as trying to tempt out-of-contract players to stick with the club beyond the end of the season.

The Bears stopped all recruitment efforts while there was uncertainty surrounding the future of boss Pat Lam after another disappointing season, and a defeat against Bath could have been fatal for him.

However, a win and the fact the club are active again in the transfer market could be a clear sign that the pressure has eased and Lam has been given the green light to stay on.

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