Manu Tuilagi will miss England’s summer tour of Australia after undergoing a knee operation, leaving Eddie Jones with a major selection headache for the three-match series against the Wallabies.
Tuilagi’s latest setback comes after he missed the Six Nations with a hamstring injury and with Henry Slade revealing he has undergone shoulder surgery, Jones has a huge void to fill in the centers.
Tuilagi made his second comeback of the season at the start of April and was named in the squad for last week’s mini training camp in London. On naming that squad on 17 May, Jones said Tuilagi was “looking very fit and enthusiastic … He really wants to make an imprint on this Australian tour.” Three days later, however, Tuilagi was withdrawn at half-time during Sale’s victory at Wasps with tightness in his knee and while he attended the England camp, it is thought he did not play a full part in the training sessions.
It is the latest in a series of setbacks for Tuilagi, who also suffered a hamstring injury in the first 10 minutes of England’s autumn victory over South Africa. Jones wants to deploy a midfield of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell as his 10-12 partnership with Tuilagi outside them but they have managed 68 minutes together and Tuilagi was lining up on the wing.
Jones has acknowledged that in Tuilagi’s absence he has no like-for-like alternative who offers the same threat and with Slade also set to miss the tour, Jones’s options at outside center are limited. Slade is a considerable blow given he has started all of England’s matches this season but as far as Jones’s options go, Joe Marchant has been in impressive form for Harlequins. The head coach is also understood to see the Northampton youngster Tommy Freeman as an option at outside centre.
England and Sale adopted a more collaborative approach on Tuilagi’s fitness with the Sharks borrowing a GPS unit from the national set-up. Nonetheless, questions were raised when Tuilagi, having made two appearances for Sale after his injury to him in November, was called back into the England squad during the Six Nations. He was named in the side to face Wales but had to withdraw after aggravating the hamstring.
Tuilagi has made 14 appearances for club and country this season and apart from the 2019 World Cup campaign when England worked wonders to keep him fit and firing throughout, he has played for the national side 13 times since Jones took over. The hope remains that after surgery and recovering over the summer, Tuilagi will be available for next year’s World Cup.
Sale said: “The club, in close consultation with England, have decided that a summer of rest and a full pre-season is the best course of action to ensure Manu is fit and available for Sale Sharks and England during a crucial year for both club and country.”
Meanwhile, three South Africa teams will play in next season’s Champions Cup for the first time while two will take part in the Challenge Cup, organizers have confirmed. The Bulls, the Sharks and the Stormers qualify from the URC into the elite European competition while the Lions and the Cheetahs will join the second-tier tournament. The move was seen as the next logical step after the South African provinces joined the URC.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism