Leicester head coach Aaron Mauger admits centre Manu Tuilagi has been left devastated after being ruled out for up to nine months with a serious knee injury.
England star Tuilagi is set to miss the Six Nations, the rest of the club season and, in all likelihood, the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand after damaging the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Leicester’s defeat to Saracens on New Year’s Day.
It is the latest in a series of injury setbacks for the powerful 25-year-old, who only returned late last year from a 15-month absence with a groin problem.
“Unfortunately Manu sustained an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] injury in the game on Sunday that’s going to put him out for the rest of the season,” said Mauger.
“It’s looking like a six-month recovery which is devastating for the bloke. He has worked so hard to get back to where he is. He is absolutely gutted, but we’ve got a good support team around him, we’ll put a good plan in place and we’ll see him back on the field early next season.”
Tuilagi could be sidelined for nine months, but even a more optimistic prognosis of six months would likely rule him out of the Lions tour, which begins on 3 June.
His absence is a blow to Eddie Jones as he plots England’s Six Nations defence and another disruption to Leicester, who sacked long-serving director of rugby Richard Cockerill this week.
The injury, in only his sixth Tigers match since returning to fitness, raises uncomfortable questions about Tuilagi’s career longevity, but Mauger backed him to return stronger than ever.
“Manu has started to show those signs in the last couple of weeks that he’s been in probably the best space that he’s ever been in,” he added.
“He was starting to get his explosive power and speed back and is really starting to understand the game better as well. He is starting to become a more complete footballer which is a great space for him to be in.”