ENGLAND centre Manu Tuilagi is poised to rejoin the squad next week following a chest injury, but coach Stuart Lancaster has played down his chances of featuring in the Six Nations title run-in.
Tuilagi has not played since September due to a torn pectoral muscle that eventually needed surgery but is in contention to return to the Leicester team on Sunday against Newcastle.
That raises the prospect of the 22-year-old returning for one or both of England’s decisive final Six Nations matches, against Wales at Twickenham on 9 March and away to Italy six days later.
Lancaster revealed yesterday that he expects Tuilagi to join up with the squad next week, but poured cold water on hopes that the powerful back might be ready to bolster their push for the championship.
“The good thing is he is back and hopefully we will bring him in to camp next week,” he said. “He has been out for such a long time and not been able to train so we will bring him in next week and spend some time with him. But it would be a big step.”
A centre partnership of Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees and newcomer Luther Burrell of Northampton Saints has helped England win two of their three matches so far, leaving them in a four-way race for the title.
But Leicester boss Richard Cockerill plans to give Tuilagi match practice against Newcastle after reporting that he has been “training well”.
He added: “We’re delighted to have him back and I’m sure he’ll get on at some part of the game and get some time under his belt.”
Lancaster, meanwhile, believes No8 Ben Morgan will be a “like-for-like” replacement for Billy Vunipola, who has been ruled out of the last two games with ankle ligament damage.
“Billy has shown that he has fantastic potential. It’s a big loss because he gave us a lot of go forward,” Lancaster added. “But we’ve seen from Ben’s appearances off the bench that he also has the ability to do that.”