“I’m ready” says Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi is looking forward to putting a frustrating 21 months of England exile behind him against Wales this weekend.
Manu Tuilagi is looking forward to putting a frustrating 21 months of England exile behind him by coming off the bench and making an impact against Wales in Saturday's Six Nations title showdown at Twickenham. The 24-year-old Leicester centre played the last of his 25 England Tests against New Zealand in Hamilton in June 2014 but now finds himself chosen among the replacements by England coach Eddie Jones.
Injury, primarily a longstanding groin problem, kept Tuilagi out of action while he was suspended by then England coach Stuart Lancaster from last year's World Cup on home soil after he pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers during a night out. “Obviously being out for a long time is quite tough, especially when you're told you'll be out for a long time,” Tuilagi said at England's training base in Bagshot, south-west of London.
The powerful midfielder made a comeback in January with Leicester, only to then suffer a hamstring injury that again kept him off the pitch. “It's hard to stay motivated and sometimes you feel a bit down. I rushed myself and was too eager to come back and play,' he said. 'With a groin injury it's all about time, it needs time to heal. I had to take it one month at a time. Now I'm here and I'm enjoying every minute of training and playing. I feel ready. I've played six games and I feel good to go. This is Test rugby. If you get asked to play 40 minutes, you play 40 minutes. I'm ready for any amount of time that I'm asked to play.”
Australian coach Jones, England's first overseas boss, said Tuilagi's display in training on Tuesday was all the evidence he needed to give the centre a bench role this weekend, where England can clinch their first Six Nations title since 2011 if they beat Wales and Scotland defeat France. “Manu ran two lines on Tuesday and cut a hole in our defence. Our defence coach Paul Gustard wasn't too pleased! He has power and pace and that innate rugby sense. That is not a bad combination,” said Jones.
Leicester coach Richard Cockerill has questioned whether now is the right time for Tuilagi to return to the international stage, but Jones said: “I don't pick the Leicester side and Cockerill doesn't pick the England team”.