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Manu Tuilagi undergoes yet another operation as Eddie Jones expresses fears for his England future

The Independent logo The Independent 03/08/2018 Jack de Menezes
Manu Tuilagi wearing a uniform © image/jpeg

Eddie Jones fears for Manu Tuilagi’s international future after the England centre underwent yet another operation in order to correct a knee injury he suffered towards the end of last season.

The 27-year-old has been riddled with injury after injury in recent years and has not started a Test for England since the 2014 summer tour of New Zealand, having played just 16 minutes of international rugby in more than four years.

Having suffered serious knee and pectoral injuries last season, Tuilagi saw his playing time limited to just 12 matches and he was left at home for the tour of South Africa which allowed him to go under the knife to correct a problem with his left knee.

But despite Tuilagi himself playing the operation down as “a really minor procedure”, England head coach Jones expressed his concern for his future if his nightmare run of injuries doesn’t ease up.

Rugby Union - England - Eddie Jones Press Conference - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - August 2, 2018   England head coach Eddie Jones during the press conference   Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley © Reuters Rugby Union - England - Eddie Jones Press Conference - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - August 2, 2018 England head coach Eddie Jones during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Asked if he was concerned by the string of setbacks, Jones said: “Yes, 100 per cent. The kid just needs a bit of luck. I know he is working hard at his game. But he is that sort of player who puts himself in physical confrontational positions so we just hope he has a bit of luck.

“We would love to see him back at his best playing with power and verve and that aggression that you see from him and the skill, and then if he does that he will certainly be someone we are going to look at very closely.”

Tuilagi has not played for England since the Six Nations victory over Wales in 2016 – his only appearance under Jones which came as a replacement – but it’s hoped that he could be up and running for Leicester Tigers if not for the start of the season then very soon after next month’s curtain-raiser against Exeter Rugby on 1 September. He is already back in pre-season training and as long as there are no further setbacks, he could play a part in the match at Sandy Park against last season's Premiership finalists.

“It was a really minor procedure and I am back in training,” Tuilagi said. “I should be right for the start of the season and am really excited for new season.”

Rugby Union - Premiership - Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons - Welford Road Stadium, Leicester, Britain - April 27, 2018   Leicester Tigers' Manu Tuilagi   Action Images/Andrew Boyers © Reuters Rugby Union - Premiership - Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons - Welford Road Stadium, Leicester, Britain - April 27, 2018 Leicester Tigers' Manu Tuilagi Action Images/Andrew Boyers

His head coach Matt O’Connor added: “We are trying to get a bit more volume into his lower body to make him that little bit more resilient.

“He carries the ball a lot for us. He is a huge focus for the opposition. We have to try to make sure he is that little bit more resilient around playing as many games as possible for us.”

Jones was keen to build his attack around Tuilagi’s power and ability to burst over the gainline, but has been robbed of his abilities since taking the job over two-and-a-half years ago and has instead had to alter his plan accordingly. It was hoped that Worcester Warriors’ Ben Te’o could play a similar role to Tuilagi, but he lacks the sheer brutality that Tuilagi can inflict as a ball-carrier and has also suffered his own injury nightmare over the last year.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: Manu Tuilagi of Leicester Tigers reacts following the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Wasps at Welford Road on March 25, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images) © Getty LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: Manu Tuilagi of Leicester Tigers reacts following the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Wasps at Welford Road on March 25, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Tuilagi was left out of the 44-man squad that Jones named on Thursday for this weekend’s pre-season training camp, but the news that he could feature in Leicester’s opening match of the season means he could yet feature in the next camp in September ahead of the autumn internationals. England open their four-match programme against the Springboks, before facing reigning world champions the All Blacks, Japan and Australia.

Meanwhile, Brad Shields should be up and running for the start of the season with Wasps, despite only finishing his commitments to the Hurricanes in New Zealand last weekend as they suffered a season-ending defeat by the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-finals.

Watch: Decision on captaincy will be made before Autumn series - Jones (Provided by Perform)

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