Toulouse linked with summer move for Manu Tuilagi
Toulouse are understood to be preparing an audacious bid to sign England centre Manu Tuilagi from Leicester Tigers.
The Top 14 giants have made Tuilagi their top summer target in the wake of a disappointing semi-final defeat to Clermont Auvergne last Saturday.
Tuilagi has been banned by England head coach Stuart Lancaster from this year’s World Cup after he was convicted of assaulting two female police officers and a taxi driver last month.
The 24 year-old is still under contract with Leicester Tigers until the end of next season.
However, the fact that England have decided not to select him until next January has heightened interest in Tuilagi in France, with Toulouse set to lead the way.
Reports suggest the club have identified Tuilagi, who has scored 11 tries in 25 appearances for England, as a player to rebuild their backline around, despite his poor disciplinary record and injury problems that saw him miss almost an entire season because of a long-term groin injury.
Toulouse, who have already signed scrum-half David Mele from Leicester for next season, will offer a transfer fee to secure the early release of Tuilagi.
Leicester, however, are adamant that Tuilagi, who came through the Tigers’ academy, will not be leaving Welford Road.
A move to France would result in Tuilagi not being available for England selection, given the Rugby Football Union’s policy of only picking home-based players - except for “exceptional circumstances”.
Still just 24, Tuilagi would be a central figure in England’s plans for the 2019 Japan World Cup, if he remained in the Premiership.
Richard Cockerill, the Leicester Tigers' director of rugby, has told Telegraph Sport that the club are already in advanced negotiations with Tuilagi about extending his contract beyond 2016.
“There is no way we would sell him,” Cockerill said. “We are already a long way down the road to trying to extend his contract and we see Manu as a huge part of our future.
“He came through our academy, he is very happy at Leicester. Obviously he has had a tough season with his groin and the whole England situation but I see a big future for him with England and we are going to be doing everything we can to keep him.”