Friday 22 November 2019

Te'o hand injury opens door for 'thankful' Tuilagi's first start in five years

Manu Tuilagi. Photo: Getty Images
Manu Tuilagi. Photo: Getty Images

Gavin Mairs

Manu Tuilagi is set to make his first Six Nations start in six years after Ben Te'o was ruled out of England's opener against Ireland in a fresh injury setback.

Te'o sustained a side strain in training on Monday, less than a week after he had spoken about how he was feeling 100 per cent fit after his long-standing injury problems last year.

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Tuilagi, whose own career has been riddled with injury setbacks, is now set to spearhead England's midfield in Dublin on Saturday, for what will be his first international start for five years. He won his first cap for two years when he came off the bench in the victory over Australia in November.

Brad Shields has also been ruled out of contention after struggling with a hip problem for more than a week. Mark Wilson is poised to start on the blindside flank in place of Shields.

Joe Cokanasiga, the Bath wing who has been sidelined since December with a knee injury, will also not be considered.

The trio are expected to be fit for England's second match against France on February 10.

England head coach Eddie Jones has the option of starting George Ford at fly-half and switching Owen Farrell to inside centre, or retaining Henry Slade in the midfield.

Tuilagi, when asked if he was ready to make his first start since 2013, said: "Definitely, it helps a lot to come into the England environment. The way we train is next level in terms of the speed and intensity. That definitely helps you going into the international games.

"It's hard. You do a lot of rehab and training and feel like you're the fittest bloke in the world. Then 10 minutes into the first game you feel like you can't run any more. By your third or fourth game you start to feel back to normal.

"Before, when you are always fit and well and playing I suppose you don't really think about it because it hasn't happened to you.

"But when I have been out for a long time, now I have got the opportunity to play and I am really thankful that I am back playing.

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