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No escape clause for Leicesters England stars in event of Premiership relegation

No escape clause for Leicester’s England stars Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge in event of Premiership relegation

  • A quartet of England stars could be playing in the Championship next season
  • Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge are all facing relegation 
  • The players do not have relegation release clauses in their Leicester contracts
  • It is believed George Ford is one of few players who does have a release clause
  • Tigers are only five points above bottom club Newcastle with five games to go

Leicester’s England stars Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge face slogging it out in the Championship next year because they have no relegation escape clause in their contracts.

With five games to go in the Premiership season, the Tigers are 10th and only five points above bottom club Newcastle.

Sportsmail has learned that very few of the Leicester squad have clauses built into their contracts allowing them to quit if the club goes down to the Championship.

Manu Tuilagi is one of four England stars who could be playing in the Championship next year

Manu Tuilagi is one of four England stars who could be playing in the Championship next year

Manu Tuilagi is one of four England stars who could be playing in the Championship next year

In what has been described as a ‘car-crash’ situation by one source, several members of Eddie Jones’s World Cup squad might have to stay and honour their contracts by playing in the Championship next season.

Tuilagi, 27, signed a two-year contract earlier this month and does not have a release clause written into it. Prop Genge, 24, and wing May, 29, have a year left to run on their Tigers deals — having signed in 2017 — and prop Dan Cole, 31, has longer. 

It is believed fly-half George Ford, 26, is one of few players who does have a release clause.

Jonny May (pictured), Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge are the other three Leicester players who have featured for England who do not have relegation release clauses in their club contracts

Jonny May (pictured), Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge are the other three Leicester players who have featured for England who do not have relegation release clauses in their club contracts

Jonny May (pictured), Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge are the other three Leicester players who have featured for England who do not have relegation release clauses in their club contracts

But sources have indicated that captain Tom Youngs, 32, and his brother — England’s 29-year-old scrum-half Ben — would definitely stay at Welford Road to fight for promotion as loyal Leicester stalwarts.

Last season Joe Cokanasiga, the 21-year-old England wing, was allowed to leave London Irish and join Bath despite having signed a four-year deal seven months before the Exiles went down.

Crucially, that new deal inserted a relegation clause, so when Irish fell back into the Championship he could move clubs.

But as Leicester are invariably at the top end of the table — having made the end-of-year play-offs every season between 2005 and 2017 — adding a get-out option to players’ contracts has never been considered necessary. 

But it is understood Leicester players’ salaries would all be reduced by 20 per cent if they do stay and play in the Championship — a clause which the club has put into contracts as standard for a number of years.

It is believed fly-half George Ford, 26, is one of few players who does have a release clause

It is believed fly-half George Ford, 26, is one of few players who does have a release clause

It is believed fly-half George Ford, 26, is one of few players who does have a release clause

One way for stars to avoid playing in the second tier would be if another club bought players out of their Welford Road deals using a transfer fee, but that is rarely used in rugby.

Sam Burgess was signed by Bath from rugby league side South Sydney Rabbitohs for £500,000 in 2014, bought out of his contract, but players usually simply move when their deal ends.

In reality, some top Test players could force a move if they wanted to and Leicester would accept an exodus to drive down their wage bill in preparation for a more frugal second-tier existence.

The Tigers — who have the biggest support in the country and one of the largest grounds in Welford Road, which holds almost 26,000 — have sacked three head coaches in two years and will need to beat Bristol and Newcastle, at least, to stay up.

There are suggestions that if Leicester do finish bottom, clubs would attempt to vote through ring-fencing the league with haste, in order to keep them in the Premiership. Any move to close off the elite league would have to be voted through by the Professional Game Board (PGB), then sanctioned by the RFU council.

It would also be met with vociferous opposition and a possible legal challenge from Championship clubs.

In December, stand-in RFU chief executive Nigel Melville said bringing up the drawbridge as early as this May was ‘wishful thinking’.

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