Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond today revealed “three or four” clubs had tried to sign Manu Tuilagi. The England international has joined the Sharks on the same financial terms as the rest of the squad, who have agreed temporary 25 per cent pay cuts.
Tuilagi has signed a deal which means he can help second-placed Sale’s bid for the Gallagher Premiership title when the current campaign restarts next month, and will also be part of the club for the 2020-21 season, which could begin as soon as November.
By staying in England rather than opting for a deal in France or Japan, Tuilagi also remains available to Eddie Jones, the England head coach, and for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa next year.
Tuilagi was one of five Leicester players who refused to sign new reduced-term contracts with the club, including Kyle Eastmond, Greg Bateman, Noel Reid and Telusa Veainu. Tuilagi has become the third to find a new club with Veainu off to Stade Francais while Reid is set to join Agen.
A week ago Diamond made it clear that while Sale were not, at that point, talking to Tuilagi, they would have room in their salary cap to accommodate the player.
He said: “If players do become available of a high calibre as long as we are not contravening any regulations then we will look at other players. Financially we would be able to do that.”
First contact with Tuilagi’s agent was made last week and discussions with the player and Leicester took place on Friday which confirmed the England centre was a free agent and could sign for a rival Premiership outfit.
Diamond told RugbyPass today he would like Tuilagi to stay longer, stating: “We made sure Manu was a free agent – which he was – and there were three or four other clubs who were talking to him, including abroad, and I just painted a picture for him of the next 12 months and they are really important to Sale and him with his England and Lions career.
“I said let’s get through the year and not look any further and see where we are. Let’s be honest, if a big money offer came after the Lions tour when he is 30 he might take that.
“We have also talked about extending this deal and Manu is a quiet lad and he just wants to play and we will look after him.
“He will fit like a hand in glove with our lot and the first people to welcome him were Jono Ross, the skipper, Marland Yard and Denny Solomona.”
Three years ago Solomona and Tuilagi were sent home from a pre-season England training camp by a furious Eddie Jones following a drunken night out.
“Manu and Denny have a bit of a reputation from then and I told them they can only go to those bars in future if I get an invite!” added Diamond.
BREAKING: Manu Tuilagi is officially a Sale Sharks player. https://t.co/a2EUYxnbEu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 13, 2020
“Manu signed for us at 10am today and will link up with the squad tomorrow although we will run him through the COVID-19 testing protocols.
“I said to the squad as a whole that we have been through the dark times of everyone taking a pay cut, but that doesn’t stop us bringing people in and players like Manu don’t come around very often.
“Manu has come in on the same terms as the rest of the squad.”
Diamond knows the signing of Tuilagi will attract flak given the number of high-profile South African players brought in, headed by World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager, but he will turn a deaf ear to the criticism.
Could he be the man to lead them to a #GallagherPrem title? ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) July 13, 2020
“Other clubs needs to worry about themselves, and in the days of austerity when I had to operate on 50 per cent of what everyone else (was spending) nobody cared that they were hand-picking (players) from my academy when they were 22-years-old,” he said.
“The reason I didn’t confirm anything about Manu was until 10 am this morning I hadn’t had the signed document.
“I told him to have a think about things over the weekend and to see me at 8.30am and he texted me a few things, like where to live, and turned up and signed. He will view a couple of houses and come back tomorrow.”
Diamond revealed he contacted his other midfield players to confirm they would be joined by Tuilagi and reported the response was a collective “brilliant” from Sam Hill, who joined from Exeter, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and the James brothers Luke and Sam.
Diamond added: “I spoke to the senior playing group and told them this is what I was doing and then rang the players in that position out of politeness. The response was brilliant.
Telusa Veainu has opened up about his exit from Welford Road.https://t.co/XhrMGjURnr
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 13, 2020
“If we can attempt to win something over the next 12 months then all that we have gone through will be worthwhile.
“Over the next three months it will be the team that manages the rest best that will win it.
“We have to cater for all circumstances and we might get a case of COVID-19. I look at a lot of football and before the shutdown Leicester City were the best team after Liverpool but haven’t played well since they came back and I don’t want be in that situation.”
Sale will return to action after the lockdown against Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop on August 14 in a game that was already slated for television coverage.
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