Manu Tuilagi will postpone making the hardest decision of his career until after England have completed their Guinness Six Nations campaign as his club future hangs in the balance.
Tuilagi has spent all nine years as a professional player at Leicester but that loyalty is being tested by interest from Top 14 club Racing 92, who are willing to pay him £2.5million over three seasons.
It is almost double what the Tigers are currently paying him and head coach Geordan Murphy admitted on Wednesday that “we simply cannot match the salary in France”.
If he remains on these shores, Tuilagi could top up his wages with England appearances that produce a match fee of £25,000, but if he moves overseas then he becomes ineligible for selection.
A report surfaced last week stating a deal with Racing had been signed, but the 27-year-old has resolved to wait until after the final two rounds of the Six Nations to finalise his plans.
“It will be the toughest decision I’ve had to make. There is a lot on the line for everyone,” Tuilagi said.
“It’s a massive decision and I have to make the right one for me and my family. At the moment I’m still committed to Tigers and England and all my focus right now is here and trying to finish the Six Nations on a high.
“There’s a lot to consider. Obviously I’m back with England and I love playing for them. I love playing at the Tigers too.
“I need to take some time after this campaign and put everything on the table.”
At the heart of the conundrum is the loyalty felt towards Leicester in the wake of years of serious injury setbacks, the desire to play for England and the reality he must maximise earnings from a career that could be ended by injury at any time.
Tuilagi has started all three matches in this year’s Six Nations and will travel to the World Cup as first choice inside centre.
It has been a long road back after repeated groin and knee issues robbed him of effectively four years of his England career and it would be a wrench to turn his back on the Test arena having fought so hard to return.
Weighed against that, however, is the poignancy of the retirement of his Leicester team-mate Mathew Tait on Tuesday, an Achilles injury ending his playing days.
“This is almost an opportunity for me to have a second go at it with England, which some people might not get,” Tuilagi said.
“I loved it against Wales in Cardiff. It was disappointing that we lost, but every time I go into it now, I love just going out for the warm-up and taking in the atmosphere.
“When I was injured, I never thought about not playing for England. I always thought I would get back playing, get back to my best.
“First and foremost it was about getting back on to the pitch and if I did well for Tigers, then I’d get an opportunity for England."
“But the reality of rugby, especially now, is that you see a lot of players retiring through injury. Yesterday it was a good mate of mine Mathew Tait.
“I never would have thought he’d be gone that early. Watch last year’s game against Wasps and that cover tackle – he was back to his best in terms of speed.
“I thought, ‘yes he’s back’. Now all of a sudden he’s retired. All that stuff I have to take into consideration and do the right thing.”News Now - Sport News