Manu Tuilagi: England centre leaving Sale Sharks to join Bayonne at end of season

England centre Manu Tuilagi will leave Sale Sharks at the end of the season, a move which is likely to bring an end to his international career.

The 32-year-old will join French Top 14 club Bayonne, with whom he has signed a two-year contract.

Players based overseas are not eligible for England selection.

Tuilagi has won 60 England caps since his debut in 2011 and scored 20 tries, playing in three World Cups and in one Test for the British and Irish Lions.

He is the latest England player to head to France to play their club rugby, following ex-captain Owen Farrell, who is leaving Saracens to join Racing 92, and Lewis Ludlam, who is going to Toulon from Northampton Saints.

Tuilagi has been a key figure in England's team ever since he was given his debut against Wales aged 20, in a World Cup warm-up match in 2011.

His powerhouse approach gave the attack an added physical dimension, never better illustrated than in the 38-21 win over then world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012, when he scored one try and was heavily involved in the other two scores.

But the Samoa-born player has also been blighted by injuries in that time.

From his debut until his appearance as a substitute in the Six Nations game away to France in Lyon, Tuilagi has missed 97 Tests.

He won the Six Nations with England in 2016 and 2020 and he was a member of the side that lost the World Cup final to South Africa in Japan in 2019.

However, a hamstring injury kept him out of rugby for more than a year meaning he did not play for Stuart Lancaster's side in the home World Cup of 2015.

He featured for Steve Borthwick's side in the autumn World Cup in France in which England came third, although Six Nations game time was limited to his 20-minute cameo in Lyon.

This announcement effectively ends his international career, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) policy of only English-based players being eligible for the national team in place since 2011.

At club level, Tuilagi was twice a Premiership winner with Leicester Tigers - the club where he came through the academy - in 2010 and 2013, scoring a try in the 2013 Premiership final against Northampton Saints.

But he left the Tigers in 2020 to join Sale on an initial short-term deal.

That was subsequently extended and it has been his home for the past four years, helping the Sharks reach a first Premiership final last season for 17 years, which they lost to Saracens.

But with Fiji captain and centre Waisea Nayacalevu joining from Toulon for next season as a player in the same physical mould, his departure from Sale seemed inevitable.

"We'll miss him massively on the field, but the void he leaves off it will be harder to fill," Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said.

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