Manu Tuilagi setback for Stuart Lancaster but key duo return

Leicester centre still yet to fully recover from groin injury

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The Independent Online

If Stuart Lancaster is putting most of his eggs in the Leicester basket as the England coach seeks to strengthen his squad ahead of the Six Nations, Tuesday's news from Welford Road was, appropriately enough, of the curate’s egg variety.

The positive bulletin concerned two Lions Test forwards in the lock Geoff Parling and the back-rower Tom Croft. The negative vibe surrounded Manu Tuilagi.

As Tuilagi is at the very top of Lancaster’s “wanted” list, this was not a welcome development. According to the Leicester director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, the outside centre has yet to recover fully from the groin injury that stopped him playing in the autumn series and is unlikely to return before the end of December. As things stand, his chances of facing Wales in the opening match in Cardiff on 6 February are less than brilliant.

But Lancaster needs as much competition for places as he can get in the build-up to next year’s World Cup, so the fact that both Parling and Croft are under consideration for bench places in Leicester’s European Champions Cup meeting with Toulon this weekend is worthy of quiet celebration. Parling, given three months’ rest following a series of concussions, is “raring to go and beginning to pester me”, as Cockerill put it. Croft, incapacitated by knee trouble, is in full training and could have played in the Premiership match with Wasps four days ago.

Cockerill fully understood Lancaster’s desperation to see Tuilagi return. “England play at their best when Manu plays at his best,” he said. “When top-level rugby reaches  stalemate, you need physicality. That’s what he brings. It’s clear that midfield is the  biggest problem area for the Test team, and as Manu is our top No 13, it’s one position solved when he’s around.”