The 21-word Sale answer to latest Manu Tuilagi 'leaving' rumour

Alex Sanderson has addressed the latest speculation that England pick Manu Tuilagi will exit Sale at the end of this season when his current contract expires.

The 31-year-old has been regularly linked with a move away from the Manchester club when the 2022/23 campaign comes to a finish – and there was further speculation last weekend that the likely English Six Nations starter next week versus Scotland will quit the Premiership.

Tuilagi originally signed a one-year deal at Sale when he joined in 2020 from Leicester. He then inked a two-year extension taking him through to the summer of 2023 but it has now been claimed that he is poised to become a big-name signing for Racing, the club where Stuart Lancaster, Tuilagi’s old England boss, is taking over in 2023/24.

Salary cap limitations in the Premiership have reportedly hindered the ability of Sale to entice Tuilagi to stay on and aside from Racing, the midfielder has also been linked with Toulon and Toulouse for a transfer after the completion of the 2023 World Cup finals in France with Steve Borthwick’s England.

It was Wednesday afternoon, at his media briefing ahead of this Friday’s Premiership home game versus Bath, that Sanderson was asked if a decision had finally been made on the future of Tuilagi considering the club season was now entering the latter stages of January.

“I have to wait until I am given the green light from the commercial department to give comment on that one,” replied Sanderson, nipping the query in the bud for now.

Tuilagi has been enjoying his best season yet at Sale due to his enhanced rate of availability, staying injury-free and being able to play more often. Last Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup start at Ulster was his tenth this season – nine starts were all he managed in the whole of last term with the club – while he already has one England cap more this season – four – than he managed last season.

Sanderson also dashed hopes that this weekend’s game versus Bath would finally see George Ford debut for Sale. The big summer signing was injured in last June’s Premiership final with Leicester and has yet to play for his new club.

“We will play him as soon as we can,” said the Sale director of rugby, suggesting that the plan now is for Ford to instead debut in the February 3 Premiership Rugby Cup game at Bristol or the following week’s semi-final.