England centre Manu Tuilagi has revealed his sense of relief after overcoming an injury that meant an anxious spell on the British and Irish Lions sidelines.
Tuilagi suffered a shoulder problem during the victory over Queensland Reds 16 days ago, the same game in which Tommy Bowe broke his hand. Bowe is on course to feature in next Saturday's second Test against Australia, while 22-year-old Tuilagi will return to action in Tuesday's final midweek tour fixture against Melbourne Rebels.
One of Tuilagi's trademark power-packed performances could conceivably thrust him into contention for the Lions' Test match-day 23 at Etihad Stadium in five days' time, but it might easily have been a different story. "The Lions doesn't come around very often, and you've got to take your chances. Thank God, the shoulder healed up pretty quick," he said.
"If I'd gone home it would have been the most disappointing thing (in my career). The physios and the coaches gave me seven days to make the Tests to see if my shoulder had any improvement in power.
"Luckily, after a couple of days, it came back 20-25 per cent, which was an improvement, and then they just gave me another week. It feels a lot better now.
"Obviously, I was gutted to come off the field in the first 20 minutes and just sitting on the bench and watching the boys.
"That's just rugby. There is not a lot you can do when you get injured but just keep your mind focused on what you want, and hopefully you will get better."
Lions team doctor James Robson described Tuilagi's injury as "nipping a nerve in his neck," and the Leicester star admitted it had caused him a fair amount of concern.
"I've had a few stingers before, but not as bad as this one," he added. "After the match, I couldn't get any movement, and there was no power. But I've been doing a lot of rehab lately with the physios and the doctors, and it's 100 per cent. I am ready to go. I have been doing a lot of contact just to test it out, and it feels fine."
Tuilagi will forge a Lions midfield partnership alongside his England colleague Brad Barritt on Tuesday as the tourists look to bounce back from last week's loss against the Brumbies in Canberra.