Richard Cockerill confident Manu Tuilagi can return stronger from injuries
Jonny Wilkinson's resurgence after his injury-blighted years has convinced Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill that Manu Tuilagi has yet to reach his peak.
Tuilagi is on course to be picked in a matchday squad within two to three weeks after making encouraging progress in his rehabilitation from the groin problem that has ruined the past two years of his career.
Now free of his pubis symphisis condition, the 25-year-old centre is suffering only from muscle tightness and while he could be pitched in action this weekend, Cockerill is mindful that "if it goes ping, then we'd be starting from scratch again".
Repeated aborted comebacks have raised concerns over Tuilagi's long-term future, but his club boss insists he only need look at how Wilkinson recovered from the injury-ravaged years of 2004-09 for inspiration.
"If you look at Jonny Wilkinson as an example, he had a lot of injuries over a long time, went to Toulon and was the European player of the year for that period of time," Cockerill said.
"I have every confidence that Manu will make a full recovery and I don't think you've seen the best of him. He's still a young man and still has a lot of rugby in him."
In January, Tuilagi returned from a 15-month absence caused by his career-threatening groin problem only for subsequent comebacks to end amid two separate hamstring complaints, a knee issue and a flare-up of the original groin injury.
The setbacks have left Leicester, who host Racing 92 in the Champions Cup on Sunday, unwilling to take any risks in his comeback.
"Manu is out jogging around and doing lots of the unit stuff already. We are hoping that within the next two to three weeks he will take some part in a squad to play and see where we are at," Cockerill said.
"If all goes to plan, it will be then. And if he's not ready, it will be a bit longer.
"He's doing all his rehab, his weight is good, he's very engaged with rehab, his lifestyle is good and he looks in great nick. It's all positive.
"Previously, with the groin in particular, he could do nothing. If exercise is your life, then that's quite hard.
"If you can train, still get that buzz from training, then there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. When you're just resting, that's a hard place to be."
Leicester are reeling from Friday's 42-13 defeat at Glasgow and Cockerill is demanding Tigers bounce back against Racing at Welford Road.
"I used to not sleep because my kids would wake me up. Now I just don't sleep, but I am up for the battle," he said.
"At the moment it's tough, but as I have said previously you will see lot of people's character traits and how they behave when things are a bit difficult.
"A bit of hard work, belief and belligerence gets you a long way - it seems to have worked in the past. And I don't know any other way."