England vs South Africa: Manu Tuilagi suffers groin strain and is replaced in squad by Chris Ashton

Returning centre was due to make his first appearance since March 2016

Jack de Menezes
Friday 02 November 2018 12:57
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England rugby training session in Portugal

Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out of England's Autumn International with South Africa on Saturday by a minor groin strain, robbing him of the chance to make his return to international rugby this Saturday.

Tuilagi sustained the injury during England's final full training session on Thursday and has been withdrawn from the bench for the opening Quilter International.

Chris Ashton, who was initially left out of the match-day 23 announced by Eddie Jones but retained with the squad in a reserve capacity, fills the vacancy on the bench.

"Manu's disappointed. He desperately wanted to play for England again," scrum head coach Neal Hatley said on Friday.

"It's just a small strain and he'll back training with us on Sunday.

"He'd put a good run in with his club, but he's buoyed by the fact that he'll be back in to prepare for New Zealand next weekend."

The injury blow does not affect England’s starting XV, with Jones announcing on Thursday that Ben Te’o will start at inside centre alongside Exeter’s Henry Slade, but the prospect of Tuilagi being introduced at some point during the match had fans, coaches and even his teammates excited by the prospect.

However, that moment has been put on hold for at least another week.

Tuilagi has made just one appearance in more than four years, with a string of serious injuries keeping him out of action since the summer tour of New Zealand in 2014 bar a brief replacement appearance against Wales in the 2016 Six Nations.

"Manu seems fine, but with his history, it's probably not one to risk,” added co-captain Owen Farrell, who starts at fly-half on Saturday for only the third time under Eddie Jones.

“I'm sure he will be back in the next couple of weeks. I think we are well enough equipped."

Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out of England's autumn international against South Africa

The absence of Tuilagi does mean that Ashton is poised to make his first appearance since the 2014 autumn internationals, and provides cover for the starting back-three of Jonny May, Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly.

But it does leave England light in midfield, given that Tuilagi was cover for Te’o – who has played just 28 minutes of rugby this season due to injury – and Slade, although Jones at least has the option of bringing fly-half George Ford on and moving Farrell to the centres if needed.

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