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'We'd never risk it': The Sale, Eddie Jones thinking around Manu

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Sale boss Alex Sanderson has explained that their over-cautious management of the fitness of Manu Tuilagi was the reason why he was ruled out of last weekend’s comprehensive Gallagher Premiership win over London Irish. The injury-prone 31-year-old had been in flying form this season, starting his club’s first four matches and also coming through a three-day England training camp.

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However, Tuilagi shipped a knock in the October 8 win at his old club Leicester and sat out Sale’s fifth match of their campaign as a precaution ahead of this Sunday’s hosting of Harlequins in Manchester ahead of the start of the latest England camp the following day in Jersey for the upcoming Autumn Nations Series.

Tuilagi hasn’t played for England in eleven months due to respective hamstring and knee injuries, but Sale and the RFU have combined their resources to try and do their best for Tuilagi who has played a total of eleven club matches since originally getting injured when scoring for his country against the Springboks last November.

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The aim is not only to ensure he can make a return this November for England. Instead, the end game is that he can go on to be fit for selection for the 2023 World Cup in France which starts next September.

“He caught a knee from Jimmy Gopperth, an accidental knee in the back last week, and it was a little bit niggly,” explained Sanderson. “With Manu and with a short turnaround, if he is carrying (anything) and can’t do the full amount of training we wanted to do to keep him robust, we’d never risk it because we know of his history. That was the reason why he wasn’t involved (against Irish).

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“Let’s bring the RFU into this and Eddie (Jones), who I met with on Friday. There is a very strong relationship there with understanding what works best for Manu so they have come to the table as well and the proof will be in the pudding. In fact, the proof will be when he plays well for a World Cup.

“That has always been our aim, to get him to that World Cup, performing right at the best of his ability and hopefully better than he has ever played. That will be the proof. This [the upcoming November series] is just another stepping stone on that journey to the World Cup.”

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Ahead of this weekend’s fixture versus Harlequins, the Sale training update on Tuilagi was: “Super sharp, super fresh, really verbal out there, buzzing around. It was a minor back strain. He probably could have played if it was a final but you know our take on managing Manu, so we have got him back this weekend if selected.”

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Poorfour 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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