The England coach, Stuart Lancaster, last night received a significant helping hand from the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary class when Manu Tuilagi, a clear first choice at outside centre, was cleared to play in the three-Test series against South Africa, which begins in Durban in 10 days' time.
A tribunal in Bristol dismissed a citing arising from the Leicester midfielder's tip-tackling of the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care during the early stages of last weekend's Premiership final at Twickenham.
Lancaster had already lost the versatile Saracens prop Matt Stevens to a shoulder injury suffered during England's warm-up victory over the Barbarians on Sunday when Tuilagi left the team base in Surrey for his hearing, and had summoned the uncapped Gloucester front-rower Rupert Harden to fill the gap in the forward ranks.
Had Tuilagi been suspended, as had been widely expected given the International Rugby Board's zero-tolerance policy towards dangerous tackling of all kinds, the coach would probably have travelled to Springbok country a man light rather than call up a second replacement.
Tuilagi has not been in the best of form recently but his power game would have been sorely missed on the tour, given the overt physicality of the South African style. In the event, the tribunal chairman Christopher Quinlan QC and his fellow panellists Dan White and Nick Dark decided they were not satisfied that the centre should have been sent off for a tackle spotted at the time by the referee Wayne Barnes but deemed not to have been dangerous.
A number of players sat out yesterday's session, in which several new red-rose recruits had their first taste of training with an elite England squad. Phil Dowson of Northampton, concussed against the Barbarians, took no part; neither did two Lions Test players, the Harlequins wing Ugo Monye and the Bath hooker Lee Mears. However, all three were expected to be available for selection for the first meeting with the Springboks, as was the new hot shot at No 8, Ben Morgan, who trained alone but is close to full fitness.
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