Manu Tuilagi: O'Connor says 'sanity prevailed' as centre avoids ban

Tuilagi, left, was making his first appearance since September against Munster. Rachel Holborn - CameraSport via Getty Images

Leicester have declared that "sanity prevailed" after Manu Tuilagi's citing for a dangerous tackle was dismissed.

The England centre faced an independent disciplinary hearing in London and pleaded not guilty to making a high challenge on Chris Cloete in the 49th minute of Sunday's Champions Cup defeat by Munster at Welford Road.

His former British & Irish Lions teammate Brian O'Driscoll insisted the "game has gone soft" in response to the citing and Leicester director of rugby Matt O'Connor was satisfied by a decision that clears Tuilagi to start against Saracens on Sunday.

"We're really thankful because Manu has just had a much publicised layoff from the game and is back fit and had got through a quality 80 minutes," O'Connor told BBC Sport.

"After his first game back it would have been devastating for him and the group if he was to miss more games, but thankfully sanity prevailed.

"I was very surprised when the citing came though. There was no malicious intent, it wasn't particularly high. It was a pretty sound tackle from our perspective.

"Everything Manu does is scrutinised because he's such a fantastic talent. There will always be headlines around Manu and everyone understands that."

The three-strong disciplinary panel found that while Tuilagi had committed "a reckless act of foul play in that his shoulder had made contact with Cloete's head", the offence did not warrant a red card.

The decision to issue the citing was met with widespread disapproval and O'Connor has reminded lawmakers -- eager to clamp down on dangerous play - of the inherent risks of playing rugby.

"It's a collision sport and we have to make sure we don't pander to health and safety issues. It's a highly-physical game played by tough players," O'Connor said.

"I don't think we need lawmakers to be overly-hard, to get that physical dominance and play the game how it was intended to be played.

"Everyone is working hard at all levels of the game to make sure the duty of care is there, that guys at grass roots level are taught the appropriate technique and players are looked after at all levels.

"But it's a highly-physical collision sport and you're going to have guys getting injured unfortunately."

Tuilagi was making his first appearance since returning from the knee surgery required after being injured on the opening day of the season.

Serious chest, groin, knee and hamstring injuries have plagued his career for the past four years and his most recent international appearance was against Wales in March in 2016.

Tuilagi's career has been chequered by repeated off-field disciplinary issues, including a conviction for assaulting two female police officers in 2015 that resulted in his exclusion from England's World Cup squad later that year.

The 26-year-old's most recent transgression saw him being sent home from England's August training camp in disgrace after undertaking a late night drinking session with Denny Solomona.

However, his solitary suspension was the five weeks received for punching Chris Ashton in 2011.