Manu Tuilagi made a surprise return to action for Leicester in the east Midlands derby against Northampton at Welford Road in front of Eddie Jones, who switched matches to watch the centre, only for the England head coach to be told not to consider the Lion for the opening rounds of the Six Nations.
Tuilagi, who had not played a competitive match since October 2014 because of a groin injury, was not originally named in the Leicester 23 but, 45 minutes before kick-off, it was announced that he would be on the bench. He came on after 52 minutes, quickly making a try-saving tackle on his international colleague Courtney Lawes that proved to be decisive as the Tigers won 30-27 with a last-minute Freddie Burns penalty.
“At this point I am not sure that Manu is ready to play Test rugby,” said the Leicester director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. “I will speak to Eddie in the next few days and the start of the Six Nations is unrealistic for Manu because we need to make sure he is 100% right.
“It was his first appearance for 15 months and he is remembering how to play rugby again. We need to get him fit and if he suffers no reaction, he will play again next week and we will build his fitness up gradually. It is premature to discuss Manu playing for England before we know that he is totally over his groin injury.”
While Tuilagi was a late inclusion on the Leicester bench, the hooker Dylan Hartley, one of the players Jones is considering for the England captaincy before of Wednesday’s squad announcement, was pulled from Northampton’s after failing to recover from a rib injury.
“Dylan played a bit during the week and we hoped he would be able to take his place on the bench, but his ribs were too sore,” said the Northampton director of rugby, Jim Mallinder. “I do not think he will be out for a long time, but the problem with this type of injury for a front rower is scrummaging and you are never sure how it will affect you. I hope Dylan will be available next weekend, but selection is another matter with Mikey Haywood in outstanding form.”
Jones was due to be at the Stoop, where Harlequins inflicted a first defeat of the season on Saracens, whose England second-row George Kruis was taken off the field in the opening minutes after being hit in the face. He suffered concussion and will follow the return-to-play protocols.