England will survive without Tuilagi

Date published: May 16 2015

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Friday's breaking news that Manu Tuilagi would play no part in the Rugby World Cup was something that England supporters would have feared for some time, except rather than his persistent groin injury being his downfall it was his chequered disciplinary history which reared its head once again.

England have been in this situation before with scrum-half Danny Care, when the Harlequins scrum-half was arrested on multiple occasions before setting himself straight after his exclusion from the national squad.

Care's omission and then return to the side with some outstanding form set the precedent for any player to wear the rose who crossed the line.

Lancaster couldn't have been clearer with the message to his squad about needing to be role models on and off the field. At 3am in Leicester on April 26, Tuilagi forgot what had been asked of him.

Details have emerged that Tuilagi was in an altercation where he grabbed a taxi driver by the throat and then kicked off his wing mirror, before shoving two female police officers prior to his arrest.

Back in 2011, Tuilagi was a 19-year-old who made a reckless if not slightly comical error when he jumped off a ferry in Auckland. It was supposed to be a learning curve, a forgivable indiscretion. His punch on Chris Ashton and resulting ban was heavily criticised, but his reputation went largely unspoilt.

Being charged with assaulting a police officer as a 23-year-old man is another matter entirely.

England could not and would not stand by him over something like this, acting in the only way possible by excluding him from their World Cup squad. In the process they lose a key weapon, but this episode damages Tuilagi more than his country.

By the end of the Six Nations, England had found a way to produce some of their best attacking rugby under Lancaster since he took over.

Tuilagi undoubtedly has made a massive impact when England have faced the All Blacks while proving that he can change a game at Test level. But England have learned to live without him. Having him in the squad would have given England a great option, but his absence confirms Jonathan Joseph as their first choice outside centre on the back of his outstanding season for club and country.

Whether a combination of Tuilagi and Joseph would have worked is now hypothetical, while his absence gives hope to those possibly on the periphery of England's final 31-man squad like Elliot Daly, Kyle Eastmond and Henry Slade.

There is a slight irony in that Tuilagi was thought of at various points over the last four years as England's biggest weapon, the main man who could provide the special moment required to win it all. Yet his absence doesn't even feel like a disaster anymore, as it would if Chris Robshaw or Billy Vunipola or George Ford were to be ruled out of this year's showpiece.

Tuilagi's actions were unfathomably stupid and now he faces the toughest punishment of having to watch his England team-mates battle on without him during a World Cup on home soil.

The hope is that he follows Care's lead and rebuilds his international career. He owes that now to his country and his club.

Tuilagi had to be excluded for such a reckless act, no question, but the absence of his exciting talent from the tournament will be a shame. There was no other choice.

By Ben Coles

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