England back Manu Tuilagi is facing another spell on the sidelines after he suffered an injury in the opening stages of the hard-fought Test against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
Tuilagi went over for a try in the corner in the 7th minute of the 27-26 victory, but immediately had troubles and had to leave the field permanently.
He is now facing at least six weeks out with a grade three tear of his hamstring.
The 30-year-old centre will visit a specialist over the coming days to learn if he requires surgery, which would result in a lengthier lay-off.
If surgery can be avoided the powerhouse will be out for six to eight weeks, but the alternative is a lay-off lasting eight to 12 weeks that would affect his availability for the Six Nations.
Muddying the waters is that his right leg was bandaged before kick-off, indicating a pre-existing problem that was exacerbated when he accelerated and then dived over the line.
Sanderson has revealed that the medical teams of Sale and England were in contact in the build up to the final Test of the autumn and refuses to blame the international set-up, while stressing the need to take a risk-free approach to Tuilagi’s fitness.
“Apparently the scan showed a grade zero hamstring tear and I believe we’ve been shown evidence of that prior to the game,” Sanderson said.
“I’m sure they wouldn’t have pushed him through training if anything had shown up on that scan. They’ve gone off the scan as a grade zero.
“You’d love someone to blame in this circumstance. You’d love to point the finger at someone and say ‘it’s your fault’.
“Manu is injury prone as we all know. Regardless of where he’s at in terms of what the scan has said is wrong with his hamstring, you have to pre-empt injury with Manu. That’s my understanding of him.
“That’s the tactic we’ve used and that’s why we’ve rested him as much as we did. If you overplay him, regardless of how he’s feeling, he’s going to get an injury.
“I’m frustrated, of course I’m frustrated, but I can’t say it’s England’s fault because all the medical advice would suggest this is a one-off.
“I’m really gutted. I’m gutted for him and gutted because we were managing him well and then something like that happens.
“There are still ongoing discussions between their physios and ours. The communication between them is wide open and transparent.
“We know exactly how much loading he does on a weekly basis, what the plan is for him, the metres he runs.
“I can’t dictate or assume over a group of people who have 100 years of medical experience.
“I can’t say this how we should manage him, I’ve got to lean into their advice and experience.”
Tuilagi’s career has been stalked by a series of significant injuries, the most recent of which was a torn Achilles that contributed to an 18-month hiatus to his England career that ended this autumn.
“It would be tough if he was 24 or 25 and that was his further break into the international scene. But he’s taken it pretty much in his stride,” Sanderson said.
“It’s happened and it’s not a career-defining or even a season-defining injury for him. It shouldn’t affect the back end of the season, which will be big for him, big for us and big for England. He should recover pretty strong. He’s a fast healer.”
England went on to beat South Africa narrowly due to a late penalty by Marcus Smith.
In other injury-related news today, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones will require a second shoulder operation after being injured during the Autumn Nations Series.
Ospreys lock Jones, who has won 149 caps for his country, was hurt during Wales’ 54-16 defeat against New Zealand last month.
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said:
“He has had one operation, and he needs a second, so we won’t really know until the second one is done, which is in a couple of weeks.”
Wales boss Wayne Pivac has already said that he does not expect Jones to be available for Wales’ Guinness Six Nations campaign, which begins against Ireland in Dublin on February 5.