Leicester boss Richard Cockerill believes it is “unrealistic” for Manu Tuilagi to be part of England’s early games in the RBS 6 Nations Championship this season.
England and Tigers centre Tuilagi made a long-awaited comeback from injury as Leicester claimed a dramatic last-kick 30-27 victory over their fierce Aviva Premiership rivals Northampton at Welford Road. New England head coach Eddie Jones looked on as Tuilagi, who had been sidelined for 15 months due to a serious groin problem, made a 52nd-minute substitute’s appearance.
Tuilagi was a late inclusion on the Leicester bench – his appearance in the match-day 23 was announced less than an hour before kick-off – and he must now wait to see if he makes Jones’ first elite player squad, which will be unveiled next Wednesday, 24 days before England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield. Cockerill, though, has urged caution about any prospect of Tuilagi being rushed back into the Test arena.
“I am not sure how far off full fitness he is in 80-minute terms,” Cockerill said. “He played 25 or so minutes today, and he is remembering how to play rugby again. Hopefully, there will be no reaction to that.
“He will play next week, and we will build his fitness up gradually. At this point, I am not sure he is ready to play Test match rugby. He has played 25 minutes in 15 months, and it is a bit premature to be discussing Manu playing for England.
“He needs to play for Leicester, we need to get him fit and make sure he is 100 per cent right before he starts playing Test matches. I will speak to Eddie in the next few days. Manu will keep improving, but the start of the Six Nations is unrealistic because we need to make sure he is 100 per cent right.”
Saints hooker Dylan Hartley missed the Leicester game due to a rib injury, although Northampton rugby director Jim Mallinder suggested it is not be a long-term problem.
“He got a bang to his ribs last week,” Mallinder said of Hartley, who had been due to be on Saints’ bench against Leicester and has been touted as a possible England captaincy successor to World Cup leader Chris Robshaw. “He trained a little bit in the week but at the last minute, he was just too sore to play today.
“We were hoping that he would come through and be fine. It’s a bang to the ribs, and he has done some training this week, so he is not going to be out for a long time. But I guess ribs are one of those things, and particularly when you are scrummaging, you are not exactly sure how it is going to affect.”
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Richard Cockerill: Tuilagi not yet ready for England
ESPN.com – RUGBY