Manu Tuilagi set to roar with Lions even if ineligible for England

Manu Tuilagi is expected to still be eligible for British & Irish Lions selection if he packs his bags and moves overseas.

A scenario considered unthinkable pre-pandemic now appears inevitable after the wrecking ball centre failed to agree amended contract terms with Leicester and was stood down by the cash-strapped club.

Quitting the Premiership would cost Tuilagi his England place as the RFU policy is to only select players from within the English game.

But the Lions have no such restriction, as Leigh Halfpenny found in 2017 when picked for the New Zealand tour despite playing for Toulon. Before that Toulouse wing Gareth Thomas not only made the 2005 tour but captained the Lions in two of the three Tests.

In the first instance Tuilagi, 29, has been stood down for a week by Tigers, who revealed last night that 31 staff had been made redundant as a result of a crisis which has already cost the club £5 million and could rise to £10m if they are not back playing in front of fans before next year.

Chief executive Andrea Pilsen name-checked the pay rebels as Tuilagi, Greg Bateman, Telusa Veainu, Noel Reid and Kyle Eastmond. Jordan Taufua is thought also to be on the list. 

“The vast majority of players fully support our recovery plans," said Pilsen. "But everyone's situation is difficult. Some extensions were offered and the financials didn't tally. They wanted more money than we could afford to pay.”

Barring a U-turn, therefore, Tuilagi is set to leave the club, though finding another could be a problem. Sources in France told Mirror Sport that the top clubs have already allocated their budgets and some are even renegotiating salary reductions.

In contrast to the financial turmoil at Welford Road, East Midland neighbours Northampton announced they had reached agreement with their entire playing squad, coaching and commercial staff to take a 12-month salary reduction.

Saints chief executive Mark Darbon said: “We are incredibly grateful to all our employees for recognising the gravity of our situation and coming together to support the club.”

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