Double blow for England as doubts grow over Tuilagi and Ashton for Six Nations
England’s Six Nations problems are already starting to mount due to Manu Tuilagi’s torn hamstring and the growing row at Northampton over the intentions of Chris Ashton.
Tuilagi needs a further scan before Leicester know when the centre will play again, while Northampton continue to prepare for life next season without England’s star wing.
Leicester hope Tuilagi will be fit to face Ulster in a key Heineken Cup pool match on January 13, but head coach Richard Cockerill admitted the injury will keep the 20-year-old on the sidelines for weeks rather than days.
Hamstrung: Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi
Northampton’s director of rugby Jim Mallinder has issued a different kind of warning about Ashton, saying the wing will have to fight for his place when he returns next week from a month-long ban for pulling the hair of Tuilagi’s elder brother, Alesana, in a vicious Premiership match at Leicester last month.
Mallinder is becoming increasingly frustrated at Ashton’s refusal to negotiate a new deal while strong speculation points to him joining Saracens on a big-money contract from September.
Ashton is free to play in Northampton’s high-profile Premiership match against Harlequins, but Mallinder might yet prefer in-form Jamie Elliott or Vasily Artemyev.
‘Chris is due back, but after a month out of action he will have to fight hard to regain his starting place, we have a number of wings who have been in good form,’ said Mallinder.
Out of practice: Ashton is currently banned and may struggle to get back in the Northampton side
If Ashton does not play against Quins he would have only two Heineken Cup pool games to prove his fitness and form before England start preparations for the Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 4.
Mallinder stressed Northampton wanted to talk to Ashton about his future but added: ‘His mind is in another place at the moment. We want him as a player, but only if he wants to be with us. It would have been nice to have talked properly with him and his agent to see where we are, but they don’t seem to want to do that. We are interpreting that lack of communication as them looking at other options.’
Leicester will also be without England lock Louis Deacon for the New Year’s Day visit of Sale to Welford Road. Deacon also tore a hamstring in Tuesday’s win at Worcester just minutes after Tuilagi was injured.
Headache: England interim coaching team (led by Stuart Lancaster, centre) may have to do without two of their key men
Cockerill said: ‘They both need further scans and will know more then. It’s a bit early in the timeframe to say how long they will be out. But they won’t be short-term injuries – they will be weeks rather than days.’
Leicester’s England Under 20 fly-half George Ford is to join Championship club Leeds on a short-term loan.
The 18-year-old, who was the IRB’s junior player of the year following his success for England last summer, will feature in Leeds’ match at home to London Scottish on Sunday.
Bath are considering giving a debut to rugby league international Kyle Eastmond on Sunday when London Irish visit the Rec. The 22-year-old has not played because of a groin problem since leaving St Helens in the autumn.