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'Nothing's ruled out with Manu': The difference Tuilagi is making

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Martin Gleeson is so glad to have the fit-again Manu Tuilagi back in the England ranks because of the added dimension he brings, the attack coach mischievously suggesting the powerhouse midfielder could even pop up in his team’s back row at some stage at Twickenham. The English host Wales this Saturday in a must-win Guinness Six Nations encounter and their planning has been emboldened by having the services again of Tuilagi, who missed the opening matches versus Scotland and Italy.       

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Tuilagi damaged his hamstring when scoring against the Springboks in November and the injury required an eleven-week layoff before he returned to Gallagher Premiership action for Sale. With 80 minutes accumulated from two league appearances, he was called up by England for last week’s fallow week training camp in London. 

Now he has been retained by Eddie Jones in the 25 that have been kept on at Pennyhill Park ahead of Thursday’s matchday 23 announcement after the squad was pared down from 35 on Tuesday evening. It leaves Tuilagi primed for a return to the England team and new attack coach Gleeson, who previously worked with the midfielder throughout the three-game November series, is delighted by the prospect of what it can do for their creativity.      

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Usual midfield pick Tuilagi started on the wing in the mid-series win over Australia and asked if a floating role was potentially on the cards against Wales, Gleeson curiously went a step further. “Yeah and back row. We talked about back row because he could go in there at some point. Manu is the type of player who can jump up anywhere. Yeah, we have got options with the squad we have got. Nothing is ruled out with Manu, or any of the other players in fact.”   

What makes Tuilagi so important for England? “Manu can just take the ball and make metres and get us quick ruck just by himself. Not everyone can do that and that is why Manu is the player that he is, because of his power, and he had got a good rugby brain as well. He just adds.

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“He gives you that little bit of something different. He is so eager, the unseen work in attack to get himself in the right positions to then have an effective attack has really been evident. He has been working hard at Sale and he did with us in the autumn and his experience as well, he is the type of guy that just adds another dimension to your attack, to create overlaps or gaps in defences. He is the guy who can punch holes on his own so he will be a good part of the mix.   

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“Manu is Manu. His acceleration and the power with his acceleration is phenomenal. As a coach, it is great to have him in your squad,” continued Gleeson, who wants England to get immediately stuck into Wales on Saturday.  

“We have to go after them when we have got the ball and when we haven’t so we need to have some line speed in defence and hit hard and when we have got the ball there are a few opportunities that we can see. We want to take them as quickly and as early in the game as possible. We don’t want to play in our shell, we want to play the brand of rugby that we want to play straight from the kick-off. It’s the blueprint that we want going forward for new England.   

“We have still got a bit to go but we are going in the right direction. Tuesday was the best session we have done since I have been there. Just the intensity and some of the play was superb. I thought it was really good. We’re heading in the right direction. It’s never perfect. You are always aiming for that [perfection] but it never is. But we went to play with the intent and the right attitude to go after teams when we have got the ball and without.”

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