The extent of the Premiership exodus to France: 629 England caps worth of experience

Jared Wright
Northampton Saints forward Courntey Lawes, Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell and Sale Sharks Manu Tuilagi.

The Premiership is set to bid farewell to some all-time greats.

A wealth of experience is set to leave Premiership clubs at the end of the 2023/24 season as several star players and England internationals head across the Channel.

Saracens captain Owen Farrell is the headline departure from the Premiership, but a host of England internationals and star players are moving to France ahead of next term.

We run through the Premiership exodus to France in detail with both the confirmed and rumoured departures.

Confirmed or just about

Bayonne are an ambitious club in France. Through their performances in 2021/22, Bayonne secured Champions Cup rugby for the first time last season. After making their Champions Cup debut, Bayonne hope to build on their success and have recruited a Premiership stalwart and an England international.

Alex Moon has been a vital cog in the Northampton Saints pack, making over 100 appearances for the side, but will make the move to Bayonne next season, where England star Manu Tuilagi will join him.

Tuilagi earned his 60th and final Test cap for England during the 2024 Six Nations and will add significant grunt to the Bayonne backline after the club missed out on the signing of Huw Jones.

While Will Collier has been a mainstay and consistent performer in Harlequins’ front-row for over a decade, he has just two England caps to his name. With the 32-year-old in the latter stages of his career, he is making the switch to Castres next season, adding a ton of experience in anchoring the scrum.

London rivals Saracens are set to bid farewell to 266 England Test caps worth of experience, mostly in the form of club captain Farrell, who will add to the long list of superstar fly-halves to represent Racing 92. Outside of a brief loan stint at Bedford Blues, Farrell has spent his entire career at Saracens and recently notched up his 250th appearance for the side. Meanwhile, the club are also set to bid adieu to the Vunipolas, but more on that later.

Moon is not the only Saints star primed to leave the Premiership side at the end of the season. The club has already confirmed the departures of captain Lewis Ludlam and legend Courtney Lawes.

Like Farrell, Lawes has played his entire career for just one club and makes the move to Pro D2 outfit Brive – who may well be in the Top 14 when he officially completes the switch. The England centurion said this is likely to be his final contract before hanging up his boots having already retired from international rugby after the 2023 World Cup.

As for Ludlam, Saints have announced that he will leave the club, but his new employers are yet to be officially confirmed although it is widely reported that he will join ex-Northampton fly-half Dan Biggar at RC Toulon.

Ludlam is set to have fellow England international Kyle Sinckler for company at Toulon. Both signings have not officially been confirmed, but the pair missing the Six Nations despite playing key roles in the Rugby World Cup indicates that Steve Borthwick was planning for life without the duo.

Danny Care to add to Premiership exodus as French club targets British and Irish Lion and Wallaby


The Premiership looks to be a happy hunting ground for the French clubs this season – not helped by the English teams’ salary caps and, in some cases, financial difficulties.

This has led to a plethora of Premiership star names being linked with a move across the Channel, which is unlikely to change anytime soon. The RFU policy of not selecting overseas-based players has also made the signing of England players all the more attractive for the Top 14 clubs.

Despite just returning to the Premiership, Top 14 clubs have been monitoring Zach Mercer’s situation in England after he was snubbed for the World Cup and Six Nations. His former club, Montpellier, reportedly expressed an interest in his return but have since moved on to other targets after being rebuffed. Despite the hefty price tag Gloucester have placed on buying him out of his long-term contract, the likes of Toulon are still interested in luring him back to France.

Meanwhile, Montpellier look set to sign another England number eight in the form of Billy Vunipola, who Saracens boss Mark McCall has noted is likely to leave the Londoners at the end of the current season.

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Vunipola has fallen out of favour with the England squad this year and has regularly been linked with a move to a Super Rugby team or to France, and the latter looks set to take place this year with Montpellier holding advanced talks with the Saracens veteran.

While not being explicitly linked to Montpellier, Mako Vunipola could follow his brother to France next season as well, with McCall also suggesting that it is his final year at Saracens.

The experienced forwards who both played over 70 times for England may well be joined by long-time England teammate Danny Care in France.

Care announced his retirement from England duty following the 2024 Six Nations and with his contract at Harlequins up at the end of this season, he was always going to attract interest despite being 37.

The livewire scrum-half has proved time and time again that he still has the legs to perform at a high level – his England appearances the best barometer of that – and has reportedly been shortlisted as one of Perpignan’s top targets.

Non-England players

It’s not just the England stars that will be leaving the Premiership at the end of the season, as the league will also lose some international stars.

Springboks forward Jasper Wiese was linked with a move to Stade Francais but now looks to be taking his talents to Japan next year.

However, Exeter Chiefs look set to lose Scotland international Jonny Gray to Bordeaux-Begles.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons have already seen Mateo Carreras depart for Bayonne after initially signing to join the side at the start of the 2024/25 season.

Gloucester’s Los Pumas hooker Santi Socino is set to link up with Pro D2 side Agen while Saracens prop Christian Judge heads to Beziers and Bath forward Johannes Jonker is off to Grenoble.

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