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'When we signed Manu I thought it was great news... we will never have to tackle him again'

By Chris Jones

Trending on RugbyPass

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AJ MacGinty cannot wait to unleash Manu Tuilagi on Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol, but also knows he will have to try to stop English rugby’s most feared wrecking ball this summer.

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Third-placed Sale host leaders Bristol in a match that will have a significant impact on who has home advantage in the Premiership play-offs which makes Tuilagi’s return as a replacement after eight months out following an Achilles operation so important. While Tuilagi missed out on selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa this summer, he can expect to be involved in England’s July test matches which includes taking on the USA Eagles at Twickenham on July 4.

Dublin-born MacGinty is the Eagles outside half and told RugbyPass: “When we signed Manu (from Leicester) I thought at that time it was great news for every No10 at Sale Sharks because we will never have to tackle him again. Now, I could be playing against him for the Eagles and so I had better get my shoulders warmed up. It’s great to have him back playing for us and I am already having a few jokes with Manu about the Fourth of July match which is a special date for everyone in the States and I have never played at Twickenham or against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium (July 10). Hopefully, with fans back in then my family can be at the Ireland match.

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“Manu is just a brilliant guy, so humble and laid back. To see the way he has progressed through his rehab and how dedicated he has been to it has been an inspiration, particularly for the young guys. Despite the injury he had, Manu never came in grumpy and was always picking the lads up. To see him running in the last month has been great and the way he has maintained his weight and fitness – he is a phenomenal athlete and raring to go.

“As a back division we fancy ourselves with our physicality on top of our defensive system. It has grown throughout the season and we have been talking about Bristol about how any disconnection in defence will cause you trouble with players who have power and footwork and with Callum Sheedy pulling the strings in behind. We cannot look past the next opponent and start thinking about where we could finish. We won’t get distracted by all the noise and it is a challenging run and we are up for it against Bristol, Harlequins and Exeter.”

To prepare for an assault on the Gallagher Premiership title, Sale’s players were taken on a night time mountain march up Snowdon in North Wales under the direction of special forces experts. It was the latest idea by Alex Sanderson, the director of rugby, who is trying to challenge his squad in different ways. MacGinty enjoyed the march and the new ideas Sanderson is delivering and also has great respect for Pat Lam, the Bristol director of rugby, who coached him at Connacht.

MacGinty added: “When Pat was in Connacht it was my first year in professional rugby and we had a successful year and I was so raw. They gave me the tools to excel and I learnt so much as a No.10 about game plans from all of the staff at Connacht. I am always grateful for the opportunity they gave me and the time they invested in me.”

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The goal-kicking outside half is second in the Premiership points table with 166 and is a key figure in the 41-man initial US Eagles squad to face England and Ireland that features 10 players operating around the rugby world and 31 from the Major League Rugby franchises who are involved in the latest domestic season in America. While the USA Rugby organisation has been in and then out of bankruptcy, the MLR remains a growing brand, attracting high-profile players such as ex-England captain Chris Robshaw and Wallaby Matt Giteau.

MacGinty said: “The hope and the plan is for that league to go from strength to strength and the guys get more opportunities to play at a high level and push for places in the Eagles squad. This feels like a new beginning because we haven’t been together since the last pool match at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“We haven’t talked about the bankruptcy and the lads just want to get going again and I have been talking to Gary (Gold, Eagles head coach)about the summer tests and then the qualification matches for France 2023 and we want to go as America 1. We have a WhatsApp group with the Eagles and it has been great to see Titi (Lamasotole) win the European Challenge Cup with Montpellier and then David Ani’u win the Heienken Cup with Toulouse the next day .”

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'When we signed Manu I thought it was great news... we will never have to tackle him again'

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