Sale’s acquisition of Manu Tuilagi adds yet another layer of intrigue to the Premiership re-opener between the Manchester-based side and Harlequins in August.

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Today it was revealed the 29-year-old will keep his England career alive by staying on home soil, after agreeing a deal with Sale that runs until the end of the 2020/2021 campaign. The 43-cap England centre was a free agent after rejecting a 25 per cent pay cut and leaving Leicester Tigers, the club he joined as a teenager.

 

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Tuilagi will now be available for Sale’s push towards the play-offs when the current Premiership season resumes next month after the coronavirus shutdown. The Sharks sit second place in the league standings, and British and Irish Lions powerhouse Tuilagi’s addition will prove a real coup for boss Steve Diamond’s side.

His first outing could be the south-west London league meeting of Quins and Sale will be the first of the 54 regulation season matches that remain to be played and it is believed broadcasters BT Sport will likely show 31 of those games live.

Tuilagi could face off against former England teammate Chris Ashton who left Sale mid-season under a cloud after clashing DoR Diamond. It was March 2 when former England winger Ashton abruptly left the club after what was described as a “difference of opinion” with Diamond. After agreeing to terminate his contract early, Ashton was then quickly signed by Paul Gustard’s Quins but he has yet to play for the London club.

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Ashton facing off against his former employers is only interesting sub-plot to the game, as Tuilagi and Ashton of course share their own colourful backstory. In 2011 during a Premiership game Ashton – then playing for Northampton Saints – pushed a 20-year-old Tuilagi in the back following a questionable tackle. The Samoan born centre replied with interest, namely two jabs following by a haymaker.

Ashton, who somehow remained standing, was left in a semi-concussed daze and needed stitches. For his part, Tuilagi missed the Premiership final against Saracens as a result after receiving a five-week ban. He was initially banned for 10 weeks but his suspension was reduced in light of a push from Ashton. Tuilagi also missed England Saxons’ Churchill Cup campaign, although he did play in England’s August Tests.

Speaking to The Daily Mail following the incident, Tuilagi said that made peace with Ashton by way of a trip to the cinema. “I rang him up and we went to the cinema and for a meal. We had a night out together. We watched Transformers… Romantic.’

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‘I was surprised it was such a big story. I couldn’t remember it afterwards much, it was all so fast. But it happened and it’s done and dusted. The other guys have had a laugh about it. I’m just looking forward to having the chance to play with him. That would be cool.’

While the hatchet has long been buried between them, it makes for another interesting sub-plot in the much-awaited return of professional rugby in England.

additional reporting PA

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