Manu Tuilagi remains in a contract stalemate with Leicester Tigers after as many as six players missed the club’s deadline to sign new deals.
Leicester had given their squad until 5pm on Tuesday to accept reduced salaries and although George Ford and Ellis Genge signed new terms it is understood that Tuilagi, their England colleague, dug in his heels.
Although the 29-year-old centre would be the subject of interest from French clubs, as he has been at various times over recent years, finding another Premiership suitor able to match his reported salary of £500,000 a year would at this juncture be virtually impossible because of financial constraints at other top-flight clubs.
“I don’t know of any Premiership clubs keen to spend any money at the moment,” a source at one Premiership club said, referring to how the Covid-19 pandemic and this month’s salary-cap reduction have squeezed budgets across the league.
A move abroad would put Tuilagi’s 43-cap England career on hold – and quite possibly at an end – given the Rugby Football Union’s policy of restricting selection to Premiership players.
Ford and Genge, both of whom featured at the 2019 World Cup and in this year’s Six Nations, signed lucrative deals with Leicester at the end of last year.
Genge, who had been earning close to £400,000 per season, is understood to have accepted an annual pay cut of about £100,000 as part of a one-year extension to his current deal.
He had seemed to revel in the uncertainty among curious Leicester supporters on Tuesday, mischievously tweeting emojis of a croissant and a sushi roll in response to speculation he could head for Japan.
His friend Jamal Ford-Robinson, the Gloucester tighthead prop, had even tweeted: “Genge to France. Confirmed,” and then: “Genge to Japan. Confirmed.” Genge, 25, has, in fact, opted to stay at Welford Road until 2023.
Genge to Japan. Confirmed.
— Jamal Ford-Robinson (@jfordrob) June 30, 2020
Tomas Lavanini, the Argentina lock, is another international understood to have agreed terms, but it is believed that Greg Bateman, Kyle Eastmond, Noel Reid, Jordan Taufua and Telusa Veainu all missed Leicester’s deadline along with Tuilagi.
Explosive back-rower Taufua, already a popular figure among supporters despite only arriving for the 2019-20 campaign, has been linked with the revolution at cash-rich second-tier French team Beziers.
It will certainly be a baptism of fire for Steve Borthwick, the former England forwards coach, who starts life as Leicester head coach on Wednesday, while Geordan Murphy moves into a different job as director of rugby.
Aled Walters, who played a key role in South Africa’s World Cup success last year as head of physical performance, takes on the same role at Leicester, who also have a new attack coach in Rob Taylor.
Jaco Taute, the Leicester centre, insisted that the ongoing contract negotiations at Welford Road had not disrupted training, which has observed stage-one social distancing protocols at Oval Park.
“I think from the start of the Covid pandemic, the situation has been tough for everyone,” Taute said. “Not just inside rugby circles – all over the world, all over the UK, everywhere. It has been a massive financial implication for everyone.
“The club has been great in talking to guys. Everyone has individual circumstances, ranging from an academy player to [someone] playing his last year.
“I know that people are talking to each other and hopefully everyone can reach a mutual agreement. It’s been a tough situation but, from both parties, everyone is doing their best to find mutual agreements.”
Although Leicester’s Oadby training base falls within the boundaries of the city’s newly instated lockdown following a coronavirus spike, Taute had not perceived too big a change.
“It’s frustrating that we are in lockdown for two weeks, but I am sure we can get through it,” he said. “We’re still able to come here, train and practice social distancing. We wear masks, have a temperature check every morning and fill in a questionnaire.
“It’s been great and we’ve done well. Hopefully as a community we can bring down the cases so things can turn back to a bit of normal.”