England have been dealt a hammer blow with the news that Manu Tuilagi will miss at least the start of the Six Nations through injury.
The Leicester centre has been out of action with a groin injury, and his recovery is taking longer than initially thought.
Tuilagi missed all of the November Tests, and has now set a return date of end of February as a target, which would see him ruled out of the first three championship games at a minimum.
“It’s slow. I had three prolotherapy injections – sugar – to try to bring the pubis back together,” explained Tuilagi.
“It’s slow but it’s getting there. No one’s really sure how long it’s going to take. When it first happened even the doctor said it would be six to eight weeks.
“I’m not sure. With this you have to just take it day by day and make sure it’s better before you try to come back,” he said.
“There are good days and bad days. Some days it feels brilliant and you wake up the next day and it doesn’t feel so good.
“[The end of February is] ideal but I have to get this right. It’s not like a sprained ankle where you can strap up and get on with it. I have to make sure that, if I need to take another week or two, I’ll take it.”
Tuilagi’s absence is a blow to Stuart Lancaster, who is already without injured forward trio Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Ben Morgan, with only the Saints lock set to play any part in the Six Nations.
England’s campaign kicks off in Wales a week on Friday, in a preview of the Rugby World Cup pool game later this year. And while the World Cup will cast a shadow over all international rugby this season, Tuilagi insists his focus is on getting back for the Six Nations.
“The World Cup is in the back of your mind,” he added.
“But for me I’m not worried about anything else but trying to get fit and then playing for Leicester and hopefully for England.”