George Ford backs 'world-class' Manu Tuilagi for strong return

George Ford has underlined the "unbelievable, world-class" playing ability of his Leicester and England colleague, Manu Tuilagi, as he nears a return to first-team action.

Injury has kept Tuilagi out since January, while he was sent home with Sale Sharks wing Denny Solomona from England's pre-season training camp in south west London on August 7 after returning to the team hotel drunk following a night out.

Both players missed the final session of a three-day gathering in Teddington, having been disciplined for an incident described by the Rugby Football Union as "team culture issues".

It is understood that Tuilagi and Solomona went out on the Sunday evening and came back drunk, prompting England head coach Eddie Jones to banish the pair back to their clubs.

Speaking at Welford Road on Tuesday, Leicester and England fly-half Ford said: "Manu was very remorseful about what he did. He made a poor decision but everyone moved on pretty quickly.

"We know that Manu at his best is an unbelievable, world-class player. Everyone has been putting their attention and energy into getting him on to the field and making him the best player he can be.

"I've been nothing but impressed with Manu in training. He's had a few years where he hasn't played a lot of rugby and it's tough when you haven't played for a long time but he has looked good.

"In training he is getting himself in good spaces; his communication is good. I think with Manu he just wants to get back playing, that's all he wants to do. Get a bit of a run going, train and play each week and we will see the best of him, I'm sure."

Tuilagi delivered a stellar individual performance when England beat New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012 but he has since endured an injury-hit four years, playing just 17 minutes of Test rugby since Jones became England head coach in December 2015.

Asked if he thought that the England door might now be closed to Tuilagi, Ford added: "I don't think so, no. Obviously, that is up to Eddie and the coaches.

"I think they've said to Manu to go away and play consistently well for Leicester first and see where that takes him but I am sure, if he gets a run of games, he will definitely put his hand up.

"He looks in good shape. He is training consistently now. I couldn't be more impressed with the lines he is running in attack, his communication and what he's doing defensively.

"To do that when he has not played that much shows what a world-class player he is. I want him outside me, that's for sure."