Six Nations

Gustard: England can cope without Tuilagi

Paul Gustard says England can cope without Manu Tuilagi and talked up Owen Farrell's potential to star at inside centre ahead of the Six Nations.

Tuilagi suffered another injury setback when he tweaked his hamstring and faces two weeks on the sidelines after returning earlier in January following a 15-month lay-off due to a groin problem.

England head coach Eddie Jones reportedly picked out the clash with Wales in March as the powerful centre's target to return at international level.

But even in the absence of Tuilagi, England defence coach Gustard is more than happy with the quality of the centres in Jones' squad, despite their relative inexperience.

"We've got four centres with us currently and we'll focus on them," he said of Jonathan Joseph, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto and Sam Hill, of whom only the former, with 16 caps, has played for England.

"As and when Manu is available to come back into the squad he'll be reintegrated and we'll see where he stands. We felt as a coaching group that the four we've got for the first few weeks would suffice.

"It's obviously a shame for Manu. Everybody wants to see Manu play rugby again. As and when he gets back fit we'll welcome him with open arms."

Much has been made of whether Jones will pick George Ford or Farrell at fly-half, but Gustard said the latter has all the attributes to thrive at inside centre if needed there.

He said: "I think he can play for England in both positions with aplomb. He can play 10 obviously at an unbelievably high level and I think he'll prove to be a very good 12 as well.

"He offers something different as a 12 to some who have played across the Premiership and for England, with his passing and kicking game obviously par excellence.

"If he can develop both those aspects he'll be a crucial player for England moving forwards. He's just a wonderful rugby player. His awareness, his skill set. He's able to play, he's got aptitude and he's certainly got the right attitude in terms of wanting to go and get people defensively as a 12.

"He's a great guy. The amount of energy he brings to a defensive line and a defensive system is incredible."

Devoto was named as an injury replacement for Tuilagi and the Bath centre has made a big impression on Gustard in training this week.

The former Saracens coach said: "He's been one of the guys I have been most impressed with this week. He's better than I thought, he's a big kid and has a deftness of touch and a strong kicking game with another left-footed option. He's really impressed me."