England have been warned to treat Manu Tuilagi with great care after head coach Eddie Jones named the powerhouse centre in his matchday squad for Saturday’s likely Six Nations title decider against Wales at Twickenham.
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill has consistently voiced his reservations over Tuilagi’s return to the international fold so soon after he regained fitness following a long-term groin injury and subsequent hamstring problem.
Jones holds a different standpoint and is expected to name Tuilagi, who has not played for England since their 2014 tour of New Zealand, among his replacements when he announces his starting XV and his bench today.
“Tuilagi needs to be managed properly,” said Cockerill. “If he’s managed differently and he breaks down I will be mightily upset at that. But Eddie is a smart bloke and ultimately it’s his decision.
“But to have good relationships you have to have trust and if he comes back broken because they’ve worked him too hard then we will be at where we are and we will agree to disagree.”
England forwards coach Steve Borthwick has dispelled any notion that Jones will be gambling with the fitness of Tuilagi and insists the 24-year-old’s performances in training are proof of how much he craves an international return.
“He’s in very good shape and playing well,” said Borthwick. “Eddie will have had conversations on things like medical reports so he will have dealt with all that.
“The approach Tuilagi’s brought to training has shown how desperate he is to play for England. He’s desperate to get back playing rugby consistently at the very highest level and in Tests for England.”
Back-up hooker Jamie George, meanwhile, was yesterday ruled out of the remainder of the Six Nations as a result of the bicep injury he suffered in training on Tuesday.
Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie, who won his solitary England cap against France in the build-up to last year’s World Cup, is set to replace George on the bench on Saturday and provide cover for skipper Dylan Hartley.