Stuart Lancaster stands by principles but Manu Tuilagi is a big loss from World Cup plans
Published 15/05/2015 | 18:18
Banning Manu Tuilagi for the World Cup shows Stuart Lancaster has made good once again on his promise to prize principle over profit.
Disciplinarian boss Lancaster has set talent aside in the wake of Tuilagi's conviction for assaulting a police officer, removing the Samoa-born midfielder from his World Cup plans without issue.
Leicester's wrecking-ball centre - when fit - ranks among just a handful of England stars who can bust open any defence in the world.
Lancaster seriously believed Tuilagi could prove the difference between success and failure at the World Cup, expecting the Leicester star to solve a big midfield problem.
When asked what would improve England after a piecemeal November series, Lancaster gave a one-word answer: "Manu".
Lancaster has been unable to create true midfield balance in Tuilagi's absence, trying almost every possible partnership; but not even that stopped the former Leeds coach dispensing with his services.
Leicester's British and Irish Lions star has been sidelined with severe groin trouble since October, but until this incident Lancaster would have given him every last chance to prove his World Cup fitness.
Lancaster had pinned huge hopes on the marauding 25-cap centre, but was unflinching in vowing to think again.
Tuilagi plunged into Auckland Harbour at the depths of England's behavioural woes in a pitiful Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign.
The 23-year-old was fined £3,000 and severely reprimanded for that ferry dive, that came after England players, including captain Mike Tindall, were criticised for drinking in the lead-up to vital matches.
All that off-field impudence, coupled with England bombing out at the quarter-final stage, cost Martin Johnson his job; Lancaster arrived on a crest of a right-thinking wave, and has upheld high moral standards ever since.
England are on the cusp of hosting a World Cup where arguably only taking the title could be viewed as success, but still Lancaster's line has not swayed.
There will be those who hint that England can simply not do without a talent of Tuilagi's ilk, but this is no Kevin Pietersen saga.
Leicester's bullish line-breaker has brought the game, his club and his country into serious disrepute. Lancaster will have felt he had no choice but to end his World Cup hopes.
Lancaster knows he will be judged on this call just like any other, an awareness that makes the decision all the stronger.