Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill believes Manu Tuilagi is not ready to play for England in Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Wales.
The 24-year-old centre, who scored one of Leicester’s four tries in an incident-packed 31-27 Aviva Premiership win at home to Exeter on Sunday, looks set to be involved in the game at Twickenham after being recalled to the squad.
After a win which moved Leicester up two places to third, Tuilagi joined up with England again but Cockerill thinks he needs another five or six games before he is ready to play Test rugby after 15 months out injured.
Cockerill, Leicester’s director of rugby, said: “Manu did some good things today but I don’t think he is ready to play Test rugby. Even if you put him on the bench to be an impact player for the last half an hour, what happens if you have to put him on after five minutes?”
Cockerill said he would talk to England coach Eddie Jones but added: “He has all the power and if he wants to pick Manu he can pick Manu, whether that’s the right thing or not. He is probably five or six games away from being fully fit to play 80 minutes of Test rugby.”
Tuilagi’s try came before halftime as flanker Tom Croft forced a turnover just inside the Exeter half, and after Vereniki Goneva’s run down the left Leicester moved the ball smartly across the backs and prop Marcos Ayerza put Tuilagi over for a fine score.
Exeter dominated large parts of the game despite having two players – ex-Tigers lock Geoff Parling and Matt Jess – sin-binned.
After leading 17-6 at the interval, Leicester extended their advantage with Peter Betham and Adam Thompstone crossing after the break, before suffering a real fright, conceding 21 unanswered secondhalf points as the visitors fought back from 31-6 down to score tries through Dave Lewis, Ian Whitten and Kai Horstmann.
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said: “It was them scoring those points at the start of the second half that brought out the best in us. Our scrum was outstanding, it’s not often you come to Welford Road and dominate the scrum.”
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