LONDON (AP) — Manu Tuilagi was withdrawn by England after a minor groin strain in training and replaced in the reserves by Chris Ashton for the test against South Africa on Saturday at Twickenham.
Tuilagi's rugby career has been plagued by injuries. He last appeared for England in March 2016, and his last start was in June 2014. His latest comeback was, as usual, eagerly awaited until his groin tightened up on Friday.
England scrum coach Neal Hatley said "if tomorrow was a World Cup final then we probably would have kept him in." Hatley insisted Tuilagi should be ready to face the All Blacks next week.
Co-captain Owen Farrell added: "Manu seems in high enough spirits. It's nothing too serious. There are enough people on the field to have played center and I can move there if things crop up."
Ashton has ended a four-year international exile, and could earn his 40th cap. The winger fell out of favor with England coaches Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones while incurring long-term bans and spending a successful season at Toulon. He's just back from a seven-week ban for a tip tackle in a preseason game.
"He made a huge call to come (home) after discussion with Eddie," Hatley said. "He wants to be involved in the World Cup and has been brilliant in training.
"He brings good energy and enthusiasm. He's one of the best support line runners who scores tries wherever he goes."
The starting XV remained unchanged to face the Springboks, and Farrell backed outside partner Ben Te'o to step up despite playing only 28 minutes of rugby since May because of thigh and calf injuries.
"Ben's a big-game player," Farrell said.
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