Sunday , July 3 2022

Manu Tuilagi misses Australia tour to give England major selection headache | Manu Tuilagi

Manu Tuilagi will miss England’s 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 entire Six Nations with a hamstring injury. He made his comeback at the start of April and was named in the squad for a mini training camp in London two weeks ago. Jones declared that 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Three days later, however, Tuilagi was withdrawn at half-time during Sale’s victory at Wasps with tightness in his knee and while he attended the England camp, it is thought he did not play a full part in the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 suffered a hamstring injury inside 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 on the field together and the latter 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 reports that Henry Slade will also miss the tour, the head coach has a huge void to fill at outside centre. Joe Marchant has been in impressive form for Harlequins and Jones sees the Northampton youngster Tommy Freeman as an option as well.

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England and Sale have been adopting a more collaborative approach over 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 the hamstring injury, 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 injury.

Tuilagi has made 14 appearances for club and country this season and aside 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, however, that after undergoing surgery and recuperating 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, organisers 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.

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