Sale have announced that England international Manu Tuilagi will be leaving the club at the end of the season.

The 32-year-old, who joined the Sharks from Gallagher Premiership rivals Leicester in 2020, is expected to join French club Bayonne on a two-year deal.

He played his 60th and probably final cap for his country in Saturday’s 33-31 Guinness Six Nations defeat by France in Lyon.

Rugby Football Union regulations dictate that any player who leaves the Premiership will no longer be eligible for international selection.

Tuilagi had his sights set on winning the title after confirming his decision to leave Alex Sanderson’s side.

“I absolutely enjoyed my time at Sale,” he told the club website. “It was a really difficult conversation with Al and a difficult decision for everyone because my family and I were really happy here.

“I never thought I would leave Leicester and it was a big step, but I have grown a lot as a person since I arrived here. I have developed as a player, but above all as a person.

“The environment in the sale is fantastic. This is what makes me get out of bed and get to work, and I really love coming in every day.

“If I helped the young players that’s great, but they also helped me a lot and I’ll miss them all.

“The mindset at the start of the season was to win the Premier League and that’s what we’re all focused on now. Knowing it’s my last season here will give me an extra boost to make sure I go home on a high.”

Tuilagi has been an automatic choice in midfield for four successive England managers due to his strength on both sides of the ball.

However, his career was severely disrupted by a series of serious injuries, including groin injuries, chest injuries, hamstring injuries, knee injuries and a broken hand.

Sale currently sit seventh in the Premiership table.

Sanderson, the Sharks’ director of rugby, said: “We talked about what was best for the club and what was best for Manu and his family and we had to make a tough decision.” But it’s still a no-brainer and I’m having a really hard time accepting that he’s leaving.

“He’s one of the best players in the world and one of the best guys in the world. There are very few people who can do what he can do on the field. As a player he is just as good as I thought he would be before I came here, but as a person he continues to surprise and inspire me to be better.

“We will miss him dearly on the field, but the void he leaves will be harder to fill.”

“His smile is the same whether he’s running onto the field ready to smash someone or whether he’s sitting across from you drinking a glass of wine, and I’m really going to miss that.”

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