Tuilagi ruled out of Scotland clash
Rugby:Centre Manu Tuilagi will miss England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham, coach Stuart Lancaster has announced.
Lancaster also confirmed that prop Alex Corbisiero will be sidelined for the entire Six Nations with a knee problem.
“Manu has run out of time for Scotland and we’ll make a call on him for Ireland early next week,” Lancaster said.
Tuilagi was devastating during last autumn’s record 38-21 victory over world champions New Zealand, scoring one try and creating two more.
The explosive 21-year-old is England’s most dangerous player and, when fit, has been an ever-present in their midfield since making his debut in 2011.
“By the end of the week we expect Manu to be running fully and changing direction,” Lancaster said.
“The message I’m receiving from the medical team is that he will be training fully by Tuesday or Wednesday next week, but I’ll need to make a call earlier in the week. He won’t be training properly until at least Friday.
“Manu is a big loss, he was outstanding against New Zealand. But he missed the first two games of last year’s Six Nations because of a hamstring and it’s an opportunity for someone else. It’s disappointing for him, but it’s not a long-term injury so he’ll be back soon.”
England must decide whether to draft in Billy Twelvetrees or Jonathan Joseph to partner Brad Barritt, while outhalves Toby Flood and Owen Farrell are alternatives.
“We have a pretty good idea of how we’ll rejig the midfield. We have our thoughts,” Lancaster said.
“It changes the emphasis a little bit, but it won’t fundamentally affect the way we play.
“Brad will be in the equation and we need to make sure we can still break the gainline and have physical defenders. We’ve got to have the ability to get across the gainline and defend.”
The initial outlook on Corbisiero’s knee problem was that he could return against France on February 23rd, but London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith revealed last night that his rehabilitation will take longer.
Lancaster, however, denies Smith’s suggestion that the injury is more grave than has been made public.
“The reality is the surgeons recommended two weeks rest and said it would then take six to eight weeks to be back playing, so that will rule him out of the Six Nations,” said Lancaster.
“Hopefully he’ll be back around the final game against Wales, but the reality is he’ll have to play two or three Premiership games first.
“It’s a shame because everything I heard about the operation was positive, but it’s going to take a while to get right. Everyone’s positive and upbeat about his recovery.
“Alex is a big loss, but Joe Marler has played well for Harlequins recently. Mako Vunipola is improving all the time and Nick Wood was outstanding for the Saxons.”
Gloucester outhalf Freddie Burns has been ruled out against Scotland and Ireland with knee ligament injury damage, while Wasps number eight Billy Vunipola is struggling with an ankle problem.
Meanwhile, Kelly Brown has been told he can keep hold of the Scotland captaincy for the opener against England.
Interim head coach Scott Johnson has decided to stick with the Saracens man, who was skipper for the autumn internationals, when the Scots run out for the Calcutta Cup match.
Brown, capped 52 times, said: “It’s a huge honour to captain Scotland. The job now is to work with all the players in the squad to deliver a performance to make the country proud this weekend.”
Johnson has refused to confirm whether Brown, who missed last year’s Six Nations through injury, would continue in the role. However, he is content for him to carry on as he is for now.
Johnson said: “It was right and proper that the coaches considered the captaincy at the same time as we were looking at selection of our squad for the England game.
“We believe Kelly has the qualities we’re looking for to captain Scotland. Captaincy is about deed in my book, not Churchillian oratory, and the experience that Kelly brings to the Test match arena is good for this team.
“We are looking at our leadership group and I’ll be naming two vice-captains in the team we announce tomorrow.”
Johnson’s reluctance to confirm Brown’s continuation in the role for the whole Championship stems from the fact his own place in the team is not guaranteed.
The 30-year-old played in all three backrow positions during Scotland’s three November Tests with New Zealand, Australia and Tonga, whose surprise victory at Pittodrie eventually forced former coach Andy Robinson to resign.
He faces competition for the number eight jersey from a resurgent Johnnie Beattie, while Alasdair Strokosch and Al Kellock offer alternative options in other key forward positions.
But Brown insists getting Scotland off to a winning start in London this weekend is his main focus and not holding on to his role as skipper.
He said: “It’s not about that. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. Yes I want to play well, but by playing well that will enable the team to be successful.
“That’s what all of the guys in the group have to buy into. It’s all about the team.”