By Gavin Mairs
Manu Tuilagi's international future is in jeopardy after the England midfielder was sent home in disgrace by head coach Eddie Jones having returned to the team hotel at 4.30am on Monday following a late night drinking session in London with teammate Denny Solomona.
Jones was understood to have been furious that both players broke the squad's code of conduct and insisted they both return home before Monday's only rugby session of England's three-day camp at Teddington in south west London.
It is understood the pair went out after the squad had returned to the hotel after a team dinner. Jones, who will travel to Japan tomorrow for a week-long World Cup logistical trip, is now thought to be weighing up whether either player has a long-term future in his squad.
Their behaviour is likely to be held against them when Jones names England squads in September and October ahead of the three-test autumn series against Argentina, Australia and Samoa. Both are already thought to have been punished internally.
Jones, who has guided England to 19 wins out of 20 test matches, has made a point of allowing his players freedom to make their own rules of conduct - there is no official ban on alcohol - and is likely to have been particularly disappointed at Tuilagi, having made a point of publicly supporting the Leicester centre in his bid to rekindle his test career after a string of injuries.
Solomona, the former New Zealand rugby league player who scored a match-winning try against Argentina in the tour in June, was already on the fringes of the squad and now faces an even greater uphill battle to push for a place in the squad as Jones shapes his team for the World Cup in 2019.
"They've breached the code of conduct that the players try and live by and Eddie has made that decision," said Danny Care, the England halfback, speaking at the launch of the team's new Canterbury kit. Tuilagi had earlier been withdrawn from the kit launch after his indiscretion.
"It shows that no one is above the law. That's the way it has been since Eddie has taken over. There's a code of conduct we're all signed up for.
"It's about making the right decisions at the right time. We're given a lot of licence by the coaches to make the right decisions. People know what is right and wrong and what to do at the right time and whatever happened last night wasn't the right time."
Tuilagi's inclusion in the three-day squad had been seen as the first steps back to the test arena for the 26-year-old after a horrendous run of injuries including chest, groin and knee injuries.
He has played just 17 minutes of test rugby since 2014 - making just one appearance under Jones off the bench in the 2016 Six Nations Championship - and has not started a game at Twickenham in four years.
He is expected to be fit for the start of the new season after undergoing a knee operation in January and Jones had cited on Friday the manner in which Tuilagi "demolished" New Zealand in a 38-21 victory in 2012 as one of the main reasons for continuing to invest time in a player with such a list of injury setbacks.
"We're confident he's moving in the right direction but he's still a hell of a long way away from playing test rugby," Jones said on Friday. "The more he works hard and diligently, the more chance he has of playing. It's nice to see him back training and back into it. He was a player that demolished New Zealand and we need those kinds of players.
"If he can get himself fit he can definitely make a strong return. If his motivation and desire are right, he can be an outstanding player for us."
Tuilagi's problem now is that he already has a long list of disciplinary problems to his name, including a substantial fine for jumping off a ferry in Auckland after England's exit at the 2011 World Cup. He was also found guilty of two counts of assaulting a police officer in April 2015, which led to a ban from the England team during the World Cup that year even though he was already ruled out with a groin injury.
Care knows personally the challenge of coping with disciplinary setbacks, having been dropped from the England squad by Lancaster in 2012 for a drink-driving offence.
"We respect his decision and I'm sure the lads will go away disappointed," Care added. "I'm sure they'll be determined to prove they deserve to be back in the room. They're two fantastic players and I'm sure they will.
"Everyone makes mistakes in every walk of life and when you're an England rugby player it gets out. As players we need to understand we are role models. I'm sure those lads will be disappointed.
"Eddie knows the strength in depth there is in the country at the moment and the number of players he can pick from, so you don't want to make many mistakes because you never know what' going to happen. There's a code of conduct we're all signed up for and if you choose to bend the rules or break them, you know the coach makes the decisions."
Leicester head coach Matt O'Connor said the club would speak to Tuilagi on his return, adding the news was "particularly disappointing because Manu has worked so hard to get back to fitness after long-term injury and to get back into the England squad".
The Sharks meanwhile issued a statement on Monday, with director of rugby Steve Diamond saying he would speak to Solomona on his return to the club.
"This is disappointing news because Denny has worked so hard since joining the club last December," said Diamond.
"He hasn't had much time off and his performances earned him a place of the recent England tour to Argentina."