England could be without centre Manu Tuilagi for the 2014 RBS Six Nations after he suffered a serious setback in his recovery from a pectoral muscle injury.
The Leicester Tigers powerhouse suffered the injury in September, having just returned to action following the shoulder knock he picked up on the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
BBC Leicester are reporting that Tuilagi has had to undergo surgery on the torn pectoral muscle after he failed to recover in the expected way, despite early hopes that he wouldn’t need surgery after he picked up the injury in the Aviva Premiership win over Newcastle earlier this season.
He had hoped to return to action for the Tigers at the end of this month, but he now faces until the end of February on the sidelines after their director of rugby Richard Cockerill confirmed the blow, meaning he will miss the majority – if not all – of England’s Six Nations campaign.
"Manu Tuilagi has not been able to recover fully from the pec muscle injury with rehab and he had surgery yesterday to repair that," Cockerill said.
"He had a reaction right at the end of the rehab process so that was the right thing to do. He will be out for probably three months.
"That's disappointing because we hoped to have him back in the next few weeks. It's a blow for him and for us."
Tuilagi has not played for England since the 30-3 defeat to Wales at the end of this year’s championship back in March, having missed the Tour of Argentina as he was with the Lions and missing the victories over Australia and Argentina in the past few weeks with this current injury.
England get their Six Nations underway when they take on France on February 1, with matches against Scotland and Ireland following before Tuilagi is expected to return. He would then face a race to be fit for their final two matches against Wales on March 9 and Italy on March 15, but he would be extremely short on match fitness having not played since September 21.
Stuart Lancaster is already without Saracens centre Brad Barritt due to an ankle injury that will keep him out until the New Year, with Billy Twelvetrees and Joel Tomkins currently forming the midfield partnership.
Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell and Gloucester’s Henry Trinder are also currently with the England squad, with Burrell pushing for a chance in the starting XV although it is unlikely to come in Saturday’s final QBE International against New Zealand.