Manu Tuilagi could be in line to make his first start for England in six years after powerhouse centre Ben Te’o was ruled out of the team’s Six Nations opener against Ireland.
The Worcester Warriors ball-carrier had been pencilled in to start in Dublin but a side strain means Tuilagi is the go-to option at 12 for head coach Eddie Jones, should he wish to continue playing Owen Farrell at fly-half rather than George Ford.
Jones ditched his 10-12 tandem of Ford and Farrell after England’s lacklustre start to 2018 which saw them finish fifth in the Six Nations and lose a Test series 2-1 on their tour of South Africa in June.
And while Te’o will remain with the England camp as they travel to the Irish capital, the opportunity has presented itself for Tuilagi to become the first name for consideration in England’s midfield.
“Manu’s been looking brilliant,” said England assistant coach Neal Hatley. “He’s trained exceptionally well in the midfield for us and he’s in a really good space. He’s a physical player and guys like playing alongside blokes like that. He definitely has a positive effect, he brings a different element to how the team feels and plays.”
As well as Te’o, England will be without blindside flanker Brad Shields and explosive Bath winger Joe Cokanasiga for the first round of the Six Nations, owing to niggling injuries.
And Jones has released seven players back to their clubs after selecting a 25-man squad to fly to Ireland.
Ben Moon, Jack Singleton, Dan Cole, Ben Earl, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Devoto and Ollie Thorley will all return home from England’s pre-tournament training camp in Portugal.
The loss of Te’o leaves Jones with Tuilagi, Farrell, Henry Slade, and Elliot Daly as his options to play in the centre.
Forwards: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams, Mark Wilson.
Backs: Chris Ashton, Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell (capt), George Ford, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs.
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