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The Offload: Bayonne’s Tuilagi move could help secure McCloskey’s Ulster future

Ireland under-20 side avoid winner’s curse; Haley playing his way back into Ireland frame

Gerard Meagher reported in the Guardian last week that England international centre Manu Tuilagi has agreed to join French Top 14 club Bayonne during the summer on a two-year contract, something that might prove good news for beleaguered Ulster supporters.

Ireland and Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey (31) had lately been linked with a move to Bayonne according to reports in Sud Ouest, who suggested that he and former Munster centre Francis Saili were the preferred options for the French club, who are set to lose midfield options Peyo Muscarditz, Yan Lestrade and Eneriko Buliruarua at the end of the season.

Ulster chief executive Jon Petrie spoke about the McCloskey situation recently without giving assurances. “Stuart is in contract”, one that runs until 2025. Petrie continued: “I’m not going to comment on specifics in there but as part of a refresh, some players go, some players come in.

“We’ll look at what that looks like. I think that we want to see players playing for Ulster that are capable of having us up there at the top end of championships and going deep into competitions.”


A pivotal figure for Ulster, McCloskey has matured into an excellent Test centre as he’s proved with Ireland under Andy Farrell. He may be reluctant to forego that international career if he moves to France. Ulster’s inside centre options include Stewart Moore and Jude Postlethwaite.

The identity of Ulster’s new head coach may have a bearing on any decision but the fact that Bayonne have opted for a big-money signing may indicate a willingness to pursue other options and a change of tack in their recruitment of centres.

Sale Sharks have already agreed a deal with Fijian captain Waisea Nayacalevu who will replace Tuilagi (32). The latter won the last of his 60 England caps against France in the final game of this season’s Six Nations Championship.

Ireland won’t carry winner’s curse to World Junior Championship

While Ireland narrowly missed out to England in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship, finishing second and unbeaten through the tournament with four victories and a draw against the eventual champions, it keeps them safe from a statistical anomaly when it comes to how the winners fare in the World Junior Championship.

Richie Murphy’s side travel to Cape Town in the summer to compete in the global tournament, where they will face Australia, Georgia and Italy at the pool stage.

Only twice in the 13 years in which the Under-20 Six Nations and Junior World Championships have taken place in the same season has the Six Nations winner won the global tournament, England in 2013 and France in 2018. On five occasions, the Six Nations winner, England four times, and Ireland last summer, have lost a final.

Ireland hold an unwanted record in having the lowest-placed finish for a Six Nations winner at the World Cup. Rhys Ruddock led an Ireland side that had won the title and also a Triple Crown in 2010 to Argentina. France, who denied them a Grand Slam, pipped them 25-22 in the pool stage, England, who Ireland had beaten earlier that season got their revenge, while they also lost to hosts Argentina.

Ireland beat Samoa and Scotland, but the ninth-place finish was the lowest placing for Six Nations winners during the period in question. It will be up to Mark Mapletoft’s England to see if they can buck the trend and emulate the class of 2013 this summer.

Mike Haley playing his way back into Ireland frame

Mike Haley’s performance for Munster in the victory over Ospreys reaffirmed how much better the team functions with him at fullback. His work on both sides of the ball was first class and hopefully he can have an injury-free run through the end of the season that might allow him to press claims to add to his solitary Ireland cap which he won back in 2019.

Having already touched on this in the preview to the aforementioned game, Haley might have been in the conversation when Hugo Keenan suffered injury issues in the Six Nations, had the Munster fullback not just returned from injury. All he can do is maintain a high-level quality to his play.

A couple of Leinster players fulfilled that remit over the weekend in Max Deegan and Thomas Clarkson, both of whom excelled in the win over Zebre in Parma. Deegan was superb in all facets of the game, and while he is behind Caelan Doris and Jack Conan in the pecking order, there is nothing more that he can do than continue to play well.

Leinster were last week linked with a €500,000 move for the “Tongan Thor”, Australian international tighthead prop Taniela Tupou to replace Michael Ala’alatoa, who moves to Clermont Auvergne in the summer, but Clarkson reminded the coaching team that he is maturing into a fine player with another good performance.

He heads up a crop of young props that include the promising Paddy McCarthy – he can play both sides – while Blackrock pupil Niall Smyth, a standout player in the Schools Senior Cup, is a player of obvious potential.

Word of Mouth

“That’s a massive win for us. We had been saying all week it was the biggest game of the season so far. It’s great to get back in after a couple of weeks off and get a win like that.” Munster’s man of the match and right wing Seán O’Brien.

By the Numbers: 6

The number of points that separate eight teams in the French Top 14 from third place down to 10th after the weekend’s matches.