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Cockerill - Tait could yet stay

Mathew Tait could yet complete a surprise deal to stay at Leicester Tigers next season despite already committing his future to French club Bayonne.

England utility back Tait signed terms with Bayonne in January, but the Top 14 outfit is embroiled in money woes and also continuing to weigh up a controversial merger with Biarritz.

Tait has reverted from full-back into his original outside centre role to boost Leicester's Premiership play-offs run, leaving Tigers boss Richard Cockerill singing his praises - and refusing to rule out retaining the 29-year-old next season.

"I think that's far from getting to a conclusion yet with Bayonne," said Cockerill of Tait's effective limbo.

"There's a possibility that he may well stay.

"It's a wait-and-see but it's not a dead duck."

Bayonne and historic Basque rivals Biarritz pulled the plug on a potential merger in 2013 after supporter unrest.

The two clubs have again been plotting to join forces, with fans once more showing their disquiet at the prospect.

Former Newcastle and Sale star Tait boasts 38 caps for England but has never been able to cement either Test or club status in his long-favoured outside centre role.

The former Barnard Castle School pupil has adapted manfully to a switch to full-back, but in recent weeks has slotted back in at 13 to plug an injury chasm at Welford Road.

Cockerill admitted to kicking himself he did not shift Tait back to 13 earlier in the campaign, licking his lips at the prospect of his ensuing clash with England incumbent Jonathan Joseph in Saturday's Premiership semi-final at Bath.

"If there's an opportunity to keep him here we would pursue that," said Cockerill of Tait's future.

"Taity's been very good for us, he's a good leader, he's got a lot of experience and he's stayed fit and been pretty robust.

"We had similar issues with Niki Goneva with Castres last year, who signed a contract there but eventually stayed: to all intents and purposes Niki is still contracted to Castres, but he hasn't played for them yet!

"I think certainly in hindsight I probably should have played Taity at 13 a bit earlier this year.

"But we're all smart with hindsight.

"In the end with injuries we were that stuck for ideas that we just thought 'why not put the bloke that's played 30-odd Test matches there, that might be an idea'.

"It was needs-must to a point, but he's been very good there.

"He's been good at 13, it's helped us.

"He dealt with Elliot Daly really well against Wasps, his pace, and we'll need that this weekend with Joseph.

"So Tait could be an option for England. With no (Manu) Tuilagi at 13, after Joseph Tait's probably not dissimilar.

"Don't forget Taity's got 38 Test matches, he's not been in and out of that side, he's played a lot of rugby in that side.

"So I wouldn't say he's the first name on the team sheet but if England need a 13 or a utility back that can play 13, wing or full-back then he is an option."

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