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Tuilagi injury hits England hopes

England appear to have lost a third player to injury for their autumn campaign with centre Manu Tuilagi unlikely to be involved after suffering a suspected torn pectoral muscle.

Tuilagi sustained the damage towards the end of Leicester's 31-6 Aviva Premiership victory over Newcastle on Saturday in his first appearance for the Tigers since returning from the British and Irish Lions tour.

The 22-year-old underwent tests on Tuesday and a clearer picture over his availability for the matches against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand is expected on Wednesday.

However, with a best case scenario of six to eight weeks being offered by Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill, he looks set to join Tigers team-mate Tom Croft and Saracens centre Brad Barritt on the sidelines in November.

"Manu Tuilagi has a suspected torn pec muscle in his chest. He's having further investigation into that," Cockerill said.

"Until we know exactly what the damage is it is hard to tell how long he will be out, but you'd think it is certainly weeks - potentially leading to months - rather than days.

"He did it in a tackle in the final minutes of the game on Saturday. Hopefully he has just partially torn a pec muscle - we're having it assessed. But it could mean surgery, depending on how severe it is."

England's most effective ball-carrier, Tuilagi has been an ever-present since making his Test debut in 2011 and is the player feared most by the Wallabies, Pumas and All Blacks.

His absence, combined with the loss of foot injury-victim Barritt, will force head coach Stuart Lancaster to field an inexperienced midfield combination this autumn.

Billy Twelvetrees and Kyle Eastmond are the remaining fit centres in Lancaster's elite player squad, although both play at 12 and Bath's Eastmond has been struggling with a knee problem incurred on the opening day of the season.

Anthony Allen, Luther Burrell, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph and Joel Tomkins are in the England Saxons squad and will be hoping the injuries offer them the chance to impress Lancaster.

Burrell has been highly impressive for Northampton this season, although his game time has come at 12, while Henry Trinder's strong form for Gloucester could propel him into the reckoning despite his absence from either senior squad.

England have lost Croft to knee surgery, almost certainly for the entire season, and Lancaster will update his squads closer to the autumn.

It continues an eventful eights days for Tuilagi, who last week apologised for playing a prank on Prime Minister David Cameron during the Lions' visit to Downing Street.

Tuilagi gave Cameron 'bunny ears' while stood behind and to the left of the Conservative Party leader as a group of players and management posed for a photo at the function to honour the Lions' 2-1 series victory over Australia.

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