Leicester Tigers have announced the signing of England wing Jonny May from Gloucester despite the pace merchant having a year left on his contract at Kingsholm in what is a growing trend in rugby union of clubs buying out player contracts.
Gloucester have signed former Tigers second-row Ed Slater as part of the deal, but it is the player-plus-cash offer that Leicester made that is the latest in a growing line of transfers that could change the way that rugby union clubs operate in the off-season.
With £200m being spent on one player alone in football following Neymar’s world record transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, rugby is still very much in the early stages of a designated transfer window. At present, players can move clubs throughout the season, although it is highly unlikely to see any major business completed until the summer break when contracts expire.
That could all change in the near future though. Leicester offered a transfer fee plus long-serving forward Slater to sign 27-year-old May, who has 27 international caps to his name and has carved out a reputation for being one of the fastest finishers in the Premiership, even if Eddie Jones once analysed his play as “we just tell him to run, mate”.
It is hardly surprising that a club the size of Leicester’s were ready to spring a current England international out of his contract, but when so many sides now have the financial clout to back up their ambition, it’s something that is likely to happen more often in the next few years. Saracens, Bath and Wasps also have significant financial firepower to target almost any player in the world, certainly those in the northern hemisphere, while reigning Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs will no doubt feel the monetary gain that will come from their thrilling success in last season’s Premiership final to try and ensure their stay at the top is not a temporary one.
Leicester are perhaps the most interesting case study here though. The once all-conquering Premiership champions have suffered something of a fall from grace, and while they still maintained their place in last season’s Premiership play-offs, fourth is not where the board see the club.
That is why they have added to the signings of George Ford and his brother Joe, Sione Kalamafoni, Jonah Holmes, Nick Malouf, Gareth Owen and Dominic Ryan with the addition of May, while two more arrivals were announced on Monday in the shape of Tonga back-row…