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Jones: 'Edge' logic of Manu recall and restoring Lawes as captain

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones has explained his logic for recalling the fit-again Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes to his England team to face Wales, and he also explained why he has restored the captaincy to the Northampton forward instead of keeping Tom Curry on as the skipper. 

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Tuilagi and Lawes had missed the opening two matches of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations in Edinburgh and Rome due to respective hamstring and concussion injuries, but they are now back in harness for this Saturday’s make-or-break round three England game in London. 

Having proven his fitness with two recent appearances for Sale following the injury that sidelined him for eleven weeks after he was hurt when scoring against the Springboks in November, Tuilagi is restored to the midfield at the expense of Joe Marchant. Tuilagi will wear No12 with Henry Slade shifting out to No13.  

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Meanwhile, Lawes will play his first match since his January 16 head knock at Franklin’s Gardens. Lock Nick Isiekwe slips to the bench to accommodate his return with Maro Itoje, who started at blindside in Rome, switching back into the second row. 

“They are both very experienced players, have won big Test matches so they understand what is needed for games like the one against Wales,” enthused Jones after he named an XV showing four changes from the team that started last time out versus Italy, the promotion of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler the other two alterations. 

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“Manu brings us a different way to attack in the backs and Courtney is a great ball carrier, a good lineout forward and also a destructive defender, so they bring that bit of edge to the team,” continued the coach. “Manu is a gain line accumulator, isn’t he? He wins the gain line pretty consistently, he draws defenders in which creates space for other options and he does that better than anyone else in the world when he is at full tilt and we are planning for him to be full tilt on Saturday.”

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Switching to the captaincy issue, Jones added: “Courtney was going to be the captain when Owen was unavailable so it is just a natural change back to the guy who was going to be captain. He has got good skills around the players. When he speaks they listen, he leads by example. We are really pleased with the job that Tom Curry did, he did an outstanding job as a young captain and he is going to be a great leadership prospect in the future.”

The England team named by Jones will see Marcus Smith, Tuilagi and Slade reunited as the ten, twelve, 13 combination following their aborted seven-minute cameo at the start of the November win over South Africa. They helped to put their team into an early lead that afternoon and Jones has warned fans to be in the seats early on Saturday as he has planned for another quick start. 

“You have got Marcus, who has got sleight of hand, quick feet, the ability to beat people one on one in space. You have got Henry, who has got an educated left foot, a good passer of the ball and also the ability to make breaks. And then to complement that you have got power with Manu. He is just a little powerhouse, isn’t he?

“When I say little, he is by far our biggest back which again gives us something a little bit different. When he is not there we don’t have that big back to play off and it is handy having a big back to play off because they dent the line and create space for the little guys to play small ball in that bigger space.”

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Asked might Tuilagi even reprise his positioning as a winger in the mid-autumn series win over Australia, Jones quipped: “You’ll have to wait and see. Make sure you get to your seat early because it might happen early in the game.”

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