Manu Tuilagi has suffered a fresh injury blow and withdrawn from England’s training squad for their three-day camp in Bristol.
The Leicester centre, who has recovered from a career-threatening groin problem and successive knee surgeries among a series of other injuries, had been hoping to make a first England appearance for two years, and potentially his first start in four years, this autumn.
However, the Rugby Football Union announced on Sunday the 27-year-old would not be involved in training this week.
Tuilagi played in the 44-37 defeat to Worcester in the Gallagher Premiership earlier in the day, alongside Ben Youngs – who has also withdrawn.
A Leicester spokesman said: “Ben and Manu went off in the second half of Sunday’s game with niggles which are expected to keep them out of training for the next few days. They will be assessed by the club in the next few days.”
Harlequins prop Joe Marler, who has won 59 caps and acts as England’s second-choice loosehead behind Mako Vunipola, also misses out.
Marler was due to link up with the 36-man party on Sunday but has pulled out for personal reasons. His place will now be taken by Exeter’s Ben Moon.
Worcester’s Nick Schonert is another injury withdrawal, while Leicester’s Jordan Olowofela – who reached the World Rugby U20 Championship final with England this summer – has been called into the party.
England will name their squad for the November internationals on October 18 before they fly to Portugal ahead of matches against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia at Twickenham.
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There wasn’t much to choose between the sides on the opening day of the West Asia Premiership, with just 23 points separating six teams across three matches.
Champions Jebel Ali Dragons got off to a winning start in a close game with Dubai Exiles at The Sevens, earning a 20-14 victory. Bahrain posted the biggest win of the day, triumphing 24-14 in Abu Dhabi against Harlequins.
Elsewhere, a converted try separated Dubai Hurricanes and Eagles, with Canes just about holding on to a 20-13 success against a side who played the majority of the game with 14 men.
“It was good to grind out a win,” Dragons skipper Ross Samson said of his side’s triumph, with his team being victorious on former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips’ first game in charge.
“It was a typical first game of the season, with lots of things for both teams to go away and work on, so we aren’t getting too carried away.”
Quins coach Mike McFarlane bemoaned his side’s profligacy in the capital as they missed 14 points from the tee in defeat to Bahrain, who had won last week against his side to lift the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title.
“It was another one we let get away,” said McFarlane.
“But positives to come from it. We had 14 points missed off the boot and uncharacteristic spills after excellent continuity, really it was the ruthlessness and execution in their 22 that let us down.
“There’s lots of positives to come out of the game and although we’re disappointed we will bottle it up and be raring to go next week after a great week of training.”
At Dubai Sports City, hosts Eagles saw Number 8 Trae Gosling sent off after just 10 minutes when he was dismissed for a punch. Nevertheless, they dug in and pushed Canes all the way before going down 20-13.
“We’ve come a hell of a long way since last season,” said captain Conor Coakley.
“We’ll learn from our mistakes this weekend and I still believe we’ll be challenging the top teams this season.
“It was a closely fought game, not much between the teams. They were able to capitalise on our mistakes, execute their moves and finish. Our guys are disappointed.
“We didn’t do ourselves any favours having a man sent off 10 minutes into the game. We dug deep, in particular our new recruits. Jamie Frost at hooker and Harrison Astley had great performances.
“We’re looking to some of our senior players now to step up in the coming games because we have some big challenges ahead.”
The result was the same as in the West Asia Trophy final at the end of the season, which Canes won 31-22. Their coach Mike Wernham was frustrated by a dogged Eagles defence, although he was ultimately satisfied as a late rally from the hosts almost cost them victory.
“I think for both teams it was a brilliant start. It was a real battle,” said Wernham.
“The scoreline was a kind one for us. We were frustrated with the amount of possession we had early in the game, we weren’t able to turn it into points. We had the ball in the right areas and plenty of opportunities but for some reason we were a bit off.
“But as I told the guys it’s the first game of the season, a lot of them haven’t played a proper game in a while and they’re getting used to new teammates etc so mistakes were bound to come in.
“Hopefully we’ll address them in the week and fix them for a massive derby game against Exiles next week who are going to be coming in cheesed off after losing narrowly to Dragons.
“Credit to Eagles they’ve improved, especially physically. It was a humdinger of a game and we just managed to hold on. Our character really came through in the end and we managed to get the win. It’s a great start to the season.”
Discarded England fly-half Danny Cipriani has the chance to show Test boss Eddie Jones what he is missing when facing fit-again rival Owen Farrell as Gloucester take on Saracens.
Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth will overtake former Saracen Steve Borthwick to set a new all-time Premiership appearance record of 266 as the Men in Black host Gloucester at Allianz Park on Sunday.
England and British and Irish Lions hooker Jamie George will also make his 200th Saracens appearance aged just 27, while Farrell is fit after a knock to start at 10 for the hosts.
England boss Jones omitted Cipriani from his latest training squad this week, insisting the decision was based purely on rugby and not the former Wasps star’s recent fine for assault and resisting arrest in Jersey.
Now the in-form Gloucester playmaker has an immediate chance to prove his worth against England’s premier fly-half in Farrell this weekend.
“It’s a great test for us so early in the season to see where we are as a team,” said Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann, with both sides unbeaten after three games of the new season.
“We haven’t played consistently well over the first three rounds so it’s going to be a massive test for us.
“We’ve not been satisfied with our performances and there are a lot of areas where we have to get better.
“Hopefully we can play the style of rugby we want to play, playing a 15-man game but transferring pressure when appropriate with a kicking game. Getting that balance right is key on the day.”
We caught up with @gloucesterrugby fly-half @DannyCipriani87.— Pro:Direct Rugby (@ProD_Rugby) September 22, 2018
He gave us an honest insight into what motivates him, how he handles being in the media spotlight and his thoughts on the season ahead.
Watch the full interview here 👉 https://t.co/xZTmkie9Lu pic.twitter.com/NRySs9cniW
Leicester will look to hit back from their 41-35 defeat at Wasps last weekend and the red card for lock Will Spencer for a head-high tackle that caused such a fuss, when hosting Worcester at Welford Road.
Interim head coach Geordan Murphy admitted he was relieved to be able to slot in a player of Graham Kitchener’s calibre to replace the suspended Spencer.
“We’ve had to make a couple of changes this week but the guys have been training well and it’s good to have Graham Kitchener back for his first game of the season, especially with Will Spencer ruled out.
“There was great heart and desire from the team at Wasps last week but we know there are areas to improve and we have to get better.”