Manu Tuilagi runs the risk of never playing at another World Cup, according to Martin Johnson.
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain says that Leicester centre Tuilagi may never reach another global tournament after his six-month Test ban after a conviction for assault.
Tuilagi, 24, was convicted of assaulting two female police officers in May and immediately banned from England duty until January, ruling him out of this year’s World Cup.
Johnson was England boss when Tuilagi jumped off a ferry into Auckland Harbour at the 2011 World Cup, and backed current head coach Stuart Lancaster’s hard-line disciplinary stance.
“You never know do you?” Johnson said of Tuilagi’s chances of featuring at future World Cups.
“Four years is a very long time. Four years as a player is almost unimaginable, because things change so much.
“You never know when your last game is in some ways.
“So let’s hope not, let’s hope he’s back playing for England next year, but we’ll see. If you let someone else in there, let’s hope that person also takes their chance and plays very well too.”
Lancaster’s early World Cup preparations have been beset by disciplinary problems, the England boss choosing to drop Dylan Hartley after the hooker’s latest ban.
Hartley was handed a four-match ban for head-butting Saracens hooker Jamie George in Northampton’s Premiership semi-final in May.
The New Zealand-born front-rower was replaced by George in England’s World Cup training squad, and told he could no longer be trusted by Lancaster.
Stand-off Danny Cipriani is still waiting to hear whether he will face any charges over an alleged drink-driving incident, but has been retained in the England squad pending the outcome of that investigation.
Johnson’s class of 2011 were beset by their own disciplinary issues, with Mike Tindall criticised for drinking in the build-up to matches, as well as Tuilagi’s notorious Auckland Harbour incident.
Johnson backed Lancaster’s call to ditch both Tuilagi and Hartley – but also threw his weight behind the England boss’ decision not to impose any curfews or alcohol bans.
“Those players have probably taken it out of Stuart’s hands in many ways,” said Johnson.
“The decisions have ended up quite straightforward.
“If guys don’t learn their lessons then ultimately there have to be repercussions and those are the consequences.
“I don’t know if they fully understand those consequences right now, but in time they will, when they look back on it. I totally agree with him not imposing any curfews or drink bans: if you’re expected to make decisions and trusted to make them on the field you’ve got to be the same off the field too.
“If you get to that point it’s a pretty sad day.”
Johnson was at Twickenham to unveil the Rugby World Cup 2015 ticket design.
World Cup-winning captains Johnson, John Eales, Francois Pienaar and Richie McCaw all feature on the range of ticket designs, with England’s 2003 hero Jonny Wilkinson the image on tickets for the final.
Tickets will begin to be posted to fans from next week, with an interactive element provided by the Blippar App. If supporters scan their ticket through the Blippar App on smart phones, their ticket will “come to life” through video footage of the specific captain featured on the design.
Tournament bosses confirmed that 85 per cent of all tickets for Rugby World Cup 2015 have now been sold.
“I didn’t know my picture would be on some of the tickets until today,” said Johnson.
“They’ve done a good job, they’ve taken good care of it, and the interactive element is quite cool as well. I’m not into tech for tech’s sake, but when you do it you do think ‘wow’. It’s clever and well thought out.”