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Manu vs The Giant: 'It's two massive lads just going at it...'

By Liam Heagney

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Friday night in Manchester is poised to be a rugby heavyweight collision to rival the boxing equivalent of Fury and Wilder slugging it out last weekend in Las Vegas. It’s England’s Manu Tuilagi directly going up against South’s Africa’s Andre ‘The Giant’ Esterhuizen in the midfield at the AJ Bell as Sale host Harlequins – and Luke Northmore will probably have the best vantage point in the house.

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The 24-year-old Harlequins player has been pencilled in to make his 13th Premiership career start and his positioning in the outside centre channel will assure him a close-up view when Esterhuizen, his 113kg colleague, starts duelling with 110kg Sale rival Tuilagi, whose reputation has similarly been built on bruising physicality in the contact area.

“I’ll stand back as much as possible and let that unfold,” quipped Northmore to RugbyPass when asked at the pre-game Harlequins media briefing about the salivating prospect of Esterhuizen and Tuilagi locking horns in an eagerly awaited contest at Sale. “Two massive lads just going at it – they will both be really excited. It’s a great challenge for both of them and hopefully it goes our way and I can capitalise with Andre being on top.”

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That was precisely what Northmore managed to do last week when introduced as a second-half replacement for the on-fire Louis Lynagh, the promising 99kg midfielder adding to the startling momentum shift versus Bristol with his own try-scoring contribution in a fixture ignited by the earlier arrival of Marcus Smith from the Harlequins bench.

“Right place right time,” said Northmore when asked if his score was in effect the try that Lynagh would have grabbed for his hat-trick if he had stayed on the pitch. “Louis would undoubtedly have scored his third try if he had stayed on but that is the coach’s decision.

“In the first half, it was quite difficult to get your head around how you were going to make an impact because things weren’t really going our way. I suppose it was just about doing your job when you are required to do it. With the momentum shift that came at the start of the second half, coming onto the field with the boys with quick ball and momentum and the game going in our favour, it made things easier for me.

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“Marcus is an incredible player, one of the best in the world right now in my opinion. He is doing some really good stuff. He had an amazing summer and everyone was chuffed for him that he managed to go and do that.

“We’re really pleased to have him back and the crowd made it more apparent how crucial he is to our team. When he came on the pitch the crowd erupted and he knew exactly what he needed to do. He does everything well and he creates magic when he needs to.

“Even when we are on the back foot there is always the sense of belief. We showed it in the semi-final and final and certainly in the games leading up. I remember in the London Irish game we just never counted ourselves out and that is a credit to the senior boys and the relationships we have created amongst the squad. We know that we will always be in the fight and we will never give up and then the tries are just a product of our enjoyment.”

Now in his third Premiership season and set for his first start of 2021/22 under Tabai Matson, the new head of rugby, what has been said to Northmore by Harlequins about what they are expecting from him in this campaign?

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“The chat was more trying to continue on, to continue improving. Being able to work alongside people like Joe and Andre and now we have brought Huw (Jones) in, just having that class of international centres I can really learn from and excel in, just being able to get the game time, take my opportunity when it comes. We have a lot of good centres and games are hard to come, they are few and far between so it is just ready and take my opportunity when it comes.”

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Manu vs The Giant: 'It's two massive lads just going at it...'

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