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Fickou comparison has England believing in Manu Tuilagi the winger

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Eddie Jones has defended his surprise selection of Manu Tuilagi on the England right wing to face Australia on Saturday, comparing the tactical switch to what France did last year when they opted to select regular midfielder Gael Fickou on their wing. The 30-year-old Tuilagi has only started once previously on the Test level wing in his 38 starts for England – a June 2014 selection in the No14 jersey by Stuart Lancaster against the All Blacks in Dunedin.


All other 37 starts that Tuilagi has made for England have been at midfield but Jones’ determination to try out the new ten/twelve combination of Marcus Smith and skipper Owen Farrell at international level for the first time prompted some outside-the-box thinking from the coach.

Tuilagi has combined excellently at inside centre with his midfield partner Henry Slade in last weekend’s win over Tonga and rather than simply demote Tuilagi on the basis that Farrell had come out of isolation following his false-positive virus test and was available to play at No12, Jones opted to keep the Sale midfield in his starting selection by finding a spot for him on the wing at the expense of Adam Radwan.

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Finn Russell on fighting water boys, facing the Springboks and expensive watches
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Finn Russell on fighting water boys, facing the Springboks and expensive watches

Jones was initially hesitant to elaborate much on his selection gambit with Tuilagi at Thursday’s team announcement media briefing. The conversation initially went like this:

MEDIA: How much have you seen of Manu on the wing?
JONES: Enough.
M: How much in training?
EJ: Enough.
M: All week, two weeks?
EJ: Enough.
M: What does that mean?
EJ: Well, all I need to see, mate, is enough. As I said the players will mix and match to their strengths. We believe that is the best backline to play against Australia.
M: What is he like under the high ball?
EJ: We mightn’t have to worry about the high ball too much against Australia.
M: You don’t think they will kick that much?
EJ: Well, if they do kick we have got other blokes who are really good under the high ball.

Later asked if there was a comparable situation to his decision to pick regular England midfielder Tuilagi on the Test wing, Jones replied. “Look I’d be clutching for straws there, mate. All I see is a powerful player who is probably in the best condition of his career. He will add to the ballplayers we have inside to finish off the movements that we have.


“He will be able to roam on the field, he will be able to play like a second centre or a third centre. I think last season Fickou played on the wing for France and was outstanding and the game (against Australia) lends itself to another powerhouse centre so we are looking forward to seeing him play there.

“We decided we would pick the best players and the players will mix and match on the field a little bit to their strengths and we believe that this is the best backline for this game… As I said we are going to mix and match. I have seen him play on the wing and he can handle twelve, 13, 11, 14, probably not 15 but he can handle all those positions with aplomb and he is in the best condition of his career.

“We want to use each player to their strengths and that is why we have picked this particular backline to complement a strong forward pack. We realise that Australia is going to ask a lot of questions.”











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