French club make Ireland and ex-All Blacks centres their top targets – report

Jared Wright
Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland: Six Nations International Rugby, Ireland versus Wales; Stuart McCloskey of Ireland warms up prior to kickoff

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland: Six Nations International Rugby, Ireland versus Wales; Stuart McCloskey of Ireland warms up prior to kickoff

Top 14 club Bayonne have made an Ireland international and ex-All Black as their top targets ahead of next season.

This comes as the club looks to replace three departing centres in Peyo Muscarditz, Yan Lestrade and Eneriko Buliruarua.

According to reports by Sud Ouest, Ulster and Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey and ex-All Blacks midfielder Francis Saili are two players they are targetting to fill the voids.

McCloskey and Saili to Bayonne?

McCloskey’s departure would be a massive blow to the province, who announced that they were parting ways with head coach Dan McFarland last week.

The midfielder has been a central figure in the Ulster attack in recent seasons but could be heading out the door despite being contracted until the end of the 2024/25 season.

Bayonne would need to buy him out of the final year of his contract, which would be a financial boost for Ulster but they would struggle to replace the quality that he adds.

Caolan S Rugby described the potential departure as a “detrimental loss for Ulster” while speculation builds that he will not be the only top player leaving the side at the end of the season.

If he is to join Bayonne, McCloskey would no longer be eligible to represent Ireland. The 31-year-old came off the bench in Ireland’s win over Wales in the Six Nations. While he has impressed in the Test set-up recently, he has not been able to establish himself as a regular starter, with Bundee Aki dominating the minutes in the number 12 jumper. Robbie Henshaw is another option in the role.

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McCloskey could be joined at Bayonne by former All Blacks centre Saili, whose current contract at Racing 92 expires at the end of the season.

Saili has started six of his 12 Top 14 matches for Racing 92 this season, but it is reported that Stuart Lancaster wishes to trim his squad to adhere to the salary cap.

They also have Fijian star Josua Tuisova on their books, although he has been sidelined through injury, as well as France international Gael Fickou and club stalwart Henry Chavancy.

Ambitious Bayonne

A report by Rugby Pass also stated that Bayonne were interested in signing Northampton Saints’ star Rory Hutchinson, who is attracting interest from Scottish URC teams too.

The ambitious French club secured promotion back into the Top 14 in 2022, and in their first season back in France’s top flight, they finished eighth overall, securing a spot in the Champions Cup for the first time in their history.

They are currently ranked 11th overall in a highly competitive season, as they are just seven points shy of a spot in the top six after seven wins from 16 matches.

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