England will go into a World Cup campaign on home soil without star centre Manu Tuilagi after he pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting a police officer.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster announced that 23-year-old Tuilagi will not be considered for selection for the national elite playing squads until January 2016, meaning he will miss the World Cup later this year.
The Leicester player pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating, one count of criminal damage and two counts of assaulting a police officer. The incident took place on April 26.
Tuilagi is understood to have grabbed a taxi driver by the throat and kicked the vehicle’s wing mirror before pushing two female police officers in the chest as they attempted to handcuff him.
Tuilagi has not played rugby since October due to a serious groin injury, but if fit, he was set to be a major part of Lancaster’s plans for the World Cup.
He has won 25 caps and played Test rugby for the British and Irish Lions, establishing himself among world rugby’s most destructive midfield runners.
Lancaster, though, has taken swift and decisive action, while Tuilagi apologised “unreservedly” to “all those involved in the incident, Leicester Tigers and England”.
Lancaster said: “As role models and ambassadors for the game, the highest standards of behaviour are expected from every England player both on and off the field.
“Having spoken to Manu, he understands and accepts both the seriousness of the offences to which he has pleaded guilty and the consequences of his behaviour to his club, country and the game as a whole.
“England will continue to liaise with Leicester Tigers and have every confidence that the club will continue to support Manu in the right way.”
Tuilagi added: “I take full responsibility for my actions and unreservedly apologise to all those involved in the incident, Leicester Tigers and England.
“It is something I deeply regret, and I totally accept the sentence given by the court.
“The club and Stuart have been very supportive, and I understand their sanctions, too.
“I know as an England player the need to conduct myself as a good role model for the game.
“I am very disappointed because my actions have let so many people down, and I can only hope for a future chance to prove myself again.”
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill, meanwhile, confirmed that Tuilagi’s club would take internal disciplinary action against him.
“Manu knows and accepts his responsibilities and has received a significant punishment in being excluded from the England squad, and the club will also take internal disciplinary action,” Cockerill said.
Tuilagi made his England debut in a World Cup warm-up game against Wales at Twickenham in 2011.
But England endured a miserable World Cup campaign in New Zealand that was blighted by off-field controversy, and Tuilagi was part of that.
In the aftermath of England’s quarter-final defeat against France, Tuilagi was detained by New Zealand police and fined £3,000 by England rugby officials for jumping into Auckland harbour from a ferry.
Lancaster, meanwhile, is likely to select four centres for the World Cup squad, with Jonathan Joseph, Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Slade his leading options.
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