By Mitch Phillips
BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) - Having waited so long to get injury-ravaged Manu Tuilagi back in the England fold, coach Eddie Jones is facing up to the possibility he may lose the big centre again, this time due to a move to a French club that would rule him out of selection.
British media reports on Thursday claimed that Tuilagi, who visited Racing 92's Paris training base last week and whose Leicester contract expires at the end of the season, has agreed to join the French outfit after this year's World Cup.
There was no confirmation from either club, though Leicester head coach Geordan Murphy said earlier this week: "He is perfectly within his rights to have a look around... hopefully we will be able to keep Manu, but sometimes it’s not possible."
Tuilagi, who has had a wretched time with injuries, made his first England start for five years in their opening Six Nations win over Ireland, played against France and on Thursday retained his place at inside centre for Saturday's trip to Wales.
Jones was initially reluctant to discuss the prospect of being without the 27-year-old, who would be ineligible under RFU regulations if he moved outside of the Premiership.
The Australian coach, who almost always refuses to discuss anyone or anything that does not relate to the next game, said it was not his job to try to persuade Tuilagi to stay.
"I don’t decide what he does for his family," Jones told reporters in the wake of speculation that Samoa-born Tuilagi, who has five brothers who played for Leicester but represented the Pacific island, could earn 2.5 million pounds for a three-year deal -- more than double what Leicester could offer.
"Every player has a family situation they have got to look after and I want them to look after their families. He is in our family at the moment and we want him to play well for us; that is our only concern right now," added the England coach.
Pressed on whether the situation had been discussed in camp, Jones said: "We just have fun about it. Give him baguettes, croissants, wear berets. What decision he makes will be up to him. He is a massively important part of our team.
"The guys like playing with him, they love him. He loves playing with the team and that's his only concern at the moment."
Captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell said Tuilagi was a player and a person everyone loved to have back in the fold.
"He is someone you look at before you go out for a game and see that big massive smile on his face and knowing that he is going to be unbelievably physical, that makes you excited to go out there and play with him," he said.
Asked if he would give him a hard time about a move to France, Farrell added: "Not me. I don’t give him stick. Would you give Manu stick?"
Farrell looks set to remain sole captain for the rest of the Six Nations after Jones revealed that co-captain Dylan Hartley could need an operation on the knee injury that has prevented him playing for club or country since before Christmas.
"He's going to see a surgeon today," the Australian said. "He’ll take some advice on what he’s got to do and then we’ll take it from there."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)