England centre Manu Tuilagi is one of five players who has left Leicester Tigers after refusing pay cuts, the Premiership club confirmed on Wednesday.
Leicester Tigers chief executive Andrea Pinchen confirmed that England stars Tuilagi and Kyle Eastmond, and also Telusa Veainu, Greg Bateman and Noel Reid have left the Welford Road club.
Leicester set their players a deadline of Tuesday evening to sign new deals on reduced terms, to reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and also the upcoming salary cap reductions.
And British and Irish Lions star Tuilagi heads the cast-list of players who refused to accept the wage cuts, and have therefore left the east Midlands club.
Tuilagi has 43 England caps and one for the Lions, and is approaching his peak at 29.
The Samoa-born centre will be able to command a sizeable contract in either France or Japan, and his Leicester team-mate Veainu will doubtless be in similar demand.
Asked to name the departing players, Pinchen told Leicester’s club website: “Our fans deserve to know: Manu Tuilagi, Telusa Veainu, Greg Bateman, Noel Reid and Kyle Eastmond.”
A Leicester statement on Wednesday morning had confirmed a “small number” of players would be leaving the Tigers.
Asked to explain where contract negotiations broke down, Pinchen continued: “We had asked staff and players very early on, because there was no income coming in, to take a 25 per cent reduction in pay across the board.
“Everyone bought into that, the players agreed to that. Then as we find out more and more, go through the process, and look at what central funding reduction is going to happen.
“If we do play behind closed doors until January, we realised we needed to make some real big cuts, that are, let’s be honest, primarily wrapped up in players’ salaries.
“Players were asked, for season 2021 only, to take a reduction of 25 per cent, with an opportunity later down the line to claw back half of that amount, and to sign an agreement to say they wouldn’t reserve their rights. But they wouldn’t accept this.
“Some were offered new contracts that weren’t acceptable to them, others chose to not come on board with that.”
Pinchen also confirmed Leicester have made 31 staff redundant, having suffered losses of GBP 5million already due to the pandemic fallout.
Former England captain and coach Steve Borthwick will have endured a testing first day in his new role as Tigers head coach, with rugby director Geordan Murphy also feeling the pinch of the high-profile departures.
Wishing the departing players well for the future, Pinchen added: “There’s no blame game here, this is people we’re talking about.
“Everyone has their own circumstances, and own thoughts about what they can or can’t do, or will or won’t do.
“What’s vital now is that we have a squad that’s all on board, believes in what we’re doing moving forward, and starts to push forward.
“If some couldn’t (do that), then we wish them well, shake them by the hand, metaphorically because of Covid, and wish them well for the next chapter. It’s really no more or less sinister than that.
“It’s simply that we had to go down one path. The majority of people are going down that path with us. And a handful couldn’t.”