The Leicester Tigers centre scored a try in last Sunday’s 27-23 defeat by Bath, where he played his first match in eight months after recovering from a knee injury suffered in January, and had his hopes pinned on an England recall for November’s games against Australia, Argentina and Samoa.
But the 26-year-old has suffered a fresh knee injury in training that will require surgery, and The Independent understands that it will keep him sidelined for 12 weeks, ruling him out of the three autumn internationals as well as the start of Leicester’s European Champions Cup campaign.
The news is a desperate blow to Tuilagi, who has not played for England since March 2016 and has made just three starts in the last four years due to a string of serious injuries.
Having undergone surgery at the start of the year to repair damaged cruciate ligaments, it is not yet known if the injury is related to his previous issue.
The British and Irish Lions centre has won 26 caps for England, scoring 11 tries in the process, but he would likely have doubled that number had he been fully available for England’s last four Six Nations campaigns, as well as their summer tours and autumn international programmes.
Tuilagi has played once for England in the last three years (Getty)
It is also a massive setback for Leicester, who will once again be unable to field their first-choice centre partnership until December at the earliest. The Tigers pay Tuilagi and Australia international Matt Toomua nearly £1m-a-season, yet they have only started together once which came in last weekend’s defeat.
Should the 12-week lay-off prove accurate, Tuilagi could be in contention to return for Leicester’s European Champions Cup clash against Munster on 9 December, although it would require an immediate return to action.
Leicester have started Tuilagi and Matt Toomua just once (Getty)
Tuilagi has been in the news for the wrong reasons this season already after being sent home from an England training camp after he and Sale Sharks wing Denny Solomona turned up for a contact session still drunk from a late-night out. The pair left a pub in South-west London at 04:30 in the morning following a lengthy drinking session, and head coach Eddie Jones had no hesitations in banishing them from his squad for the final day’s training in Teddington.
However, Tuilagi was given a second, final chance by Jones following his try-scoring return last weekend when the Australian spoke at the Soccerex convention in Manchester. Jones confirmed that Tuilagi remains in his selection plans if he gets himself fit and finds his form, but this setback will only delay any possible return even further.
If he does it again he’ll be spending a lot of time in the Midlands
“Everyone makes bad mistakes, we’ve all done it,” Jones said of Tuilagi and Solomona. “So we will just assess them over the next period of time and, if they’re eligible for selection…and if their attitude is right, then we will pick them.
“If they’re not, then we won’t pick them. They understand they made a poor choice, the team understand they made a poor choice.”
Jones added that if Tuilagi could not keep his discipline then he will “be spending a lot more time in the Midlands”.
Tuilagi has only just returned from knee surgery (Getty)
“He’s only done it once with me, the same with Denny. Everybody talks about previous records but he’s only done it once with me. If he does it again he’ll be spending a lot of time in the Midlands.”
Unfortunately for Tuilagi that will prove to be the case, if only for the most heart-breaking of reasons.