Manu Tuilagi and Toby Flood major concerns for England head coach Stuart Lancaster


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The Independent Online

Stuart Lancaster is sweating on the availability of two key players for England's South Africa tour.

England could board their flight tomorrow without Leicester backs Manu Tuilagi and Toby Flood.

Centre Tuilagi faces a Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing in Bristol tonight, while fly-half Flood has an ankle injury that kept him out of last Saturday's Aviva Premiership final against Harlequins.

England face the Springboks in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth next month, plus two midweek tour matches.

Tuilagi has been reported by citing officer John Byett for a "tip tackle" on Quins and England scrum-half Danny Care during Saturday's showpiece final at Twickenham, which Quins won 30-23.

In a statement, the RFU said: "Manusamoa Tuilagi, of Leicester Tigers, has been cited for a 'tip tackle' on Harlequins' Danny Care during the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, May 27.

"Tuilagi has been charged with a breach of Law 10.4 (j) following a report by the citing officer John Byett and will appear at the Bristol Filton Holiday Inn on Tuesday, May 29 (8pm). The case will be heard by a single RFU judicial officer, Christopher Quinlan QC."

The powerful Tuilagi, 21, is a key part of Lancaster's plans, but he could land a minimum three-week suspension.

Tuilagi, one of England's outstanding performers during the RBS 6 Nations campaign this season, is no stranger to controversy.

He was banned for 10 weeks after punching Northampton and England wing Chris Ashton during a Premiership semi-final at Welford Road last season, although that suspension was reduced to five weeks on appeal.

And during England's ill-fated World Cup campaign in New Zealand last autumn, Tuilagi received a £3,000 fine for jumping from a ferry into Auckland Harbour and a £4,800 punishment from the International Rugby Board for wearing a sponsored mouthguard during the tournament.

"Tip tackles" are frowned upon by rugby disciplinarians, and if the case is proved against Tuilagi - who tackled Care in the first minute - then he can expect an enforced absence from the game.

Lancaster said after Sunday's comfortable Twickenham victory over the Barbarians, in which Tuilagi did not play, that he was not anticipating a major problem for the player.

"Looking at the incident I am pretty confident he will be fine, but we will wait and see," Lancaster said.

Tuilagi was penalised by referee Wayne Barnes for the offence, but he did not receive a yellow or red card.