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'We're struggling to see how we can manage him potentially better'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

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Alex Sanderson has refused to write off the ambition of Manu Tuilagi to play for England in this season’s Guinness Six Nations, the Sale boss suggesting that he could be ready to return for the March 19 round five match versus France once he comes through club training safely next week. Named last Thursday morning in his country’s team to face Wales in round three of the championship, the powerhouse midfielder was scratched from the side later that same day after it emerged he had suffered a fresh hamstring issue at Pennyhill Park. 

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England had been hoping to play Tuilagi in their team for the first time since he originally injured the hamstring in the November win over the Springboks, but he was replaced in the starting line-up by Elliot Daly and he instead spent his weekend back home in Manchester. 

Rather than ask Tuilagi to come down to Bristol for this week’s three-day training camp so that they could monitor his latest injury at close quarters, England excluded the centre from the 25-man squad named on Wednesday lunchtime and it was left to Sale boss Sanderson later that evening at his club’s weekly media briefing to shed light on the latest status surrounding his player’s latest injury situation.  

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Episode 23 – Jack Nowell, Ryan & Max on England Camp, Six Nations and Post Match Beers & Feeds
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Episode 23 – Jack Nowell, Ryan & Max on England Camp, Six Nations and Post Match Beers & Feeds

“It’s probably the lightest strain you can probably get, it’s a 1A, it’s a fascial tear, there is no muscle tear there and it’s probably a little bit too far, a little bit too soon for him,” explained Sanderson on why Tuilagi pulled up lame having initially played 80 minutes across two games for Sale and then come through unscathed from a week’s training in London with England before last week’s matchweek setback. 

We have spoken to Eddie and we liaise with their physios and S&Cs and we are all on the same page and we have agreed to catch up post the Six Nations to understand how we can manage him potentially better, but we are struggling to see how we can at the moment apart from it just being too much too soon.”

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Asked if the Ireland game on March 12 was too soon for Tuilagi but he could be available for the tournament’s closing match away to France seven days later, Sanderson added: “That is the fairest estimation. He hasn’t trained yet, so he is back in training next week… That is the aim, to get him back before the end. We have learned a little lesson, though, not to push him too far too soon so we will come to that hurdle again when he is properly fit and in the right space. We will assess it at that point in time and take it week to week.”

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Although not named in the official 25-man England training squad this week, Tom Curry is in Bristol working with the national team trainers and medics. Why then isn’t Tuilagi doing the same as his club colleague and also attending this England camp rather than waiting to get going again with Sale? 

“It’s case by case always,” continued Sanderson. “Tom’s return to play from his HIA, he got a bang on the head – he was released and sent home Sunday so he has been at home Sunday, Monday and then passed his HIA yesterday [Tuesday] and went back in. That puts him ready to prep for Ireland whereas we have already said that Manu probably isn’t going to be back for Ireland.

“Where is the best place at the moment for him to be psychologically best kept and looked after? It’s with his family and with us. That makes sense after everything we have talked about. Not that we are better. We are not better at rehabbing people, we don’t have a better system in terms of our psychological aid, we certainly don’t have better coaches because they have got years and years of coaching experience. 

“It is none of that. It’s our familiarity with the athlete we are talking about, the individual we are talking about because we have worked with him for so long and got him through really tough injuries that at the moment here is the best place for him. Does that make sense? I don’t want it going out, ’Alex Sanderson said it is better for him to be at Sale’. It is better for this man to be here with us on most fronts at the moment but as soon as he is ready to train, he’ll go (back with England).”

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Quizzed on how he reacted to the breaking news last Thursday that Tuilagi had suddenly been ruled out of playing for England just hours after he was named at No12 to take on Wales, Sanderson remarked: “I was gutted for him, I genuinely was gutted for him. That was my reaction. Everyone expected me to be annoyed, frustrated. I wasn’t. This is about Manu and I want him to play for England as everyone does. 

“The frustrating fact is he is not out there playing for the country, but the encouraging thing is the injuries he is getting aren’t as severe. We seem to have a better handle on his loading for the fact that he is not breaking down with seemingly long-term injuries, so that is encouraging. When it happens you have to reframe it in your own mind as to the positives and what you can control. 

“The positives are he is going to be back in a week or two, he is in great form, he is positive himself, he is probably in the shape of the life he has definitely got two or three years ahead of him so this is just a little hurdle and once you reframe it like that you start to look forward to the next year and a half to the World Cup as opposed to looking back.”  

Would Tuilagi’s career benefit from a long run at Sale rather than being in and out with England, Sanderson replied: “In terms of his ability to improve the length of his career, yes, and that is only because the intensity of training, the physicality of games is less so in the Premiership than it is in international rugby. 

“The physical and mental strain is increased in that environment so it puts strain on you neurologically and physically. That is the only reason. Everyone in this scenario wants him to play. So yeah, I am not talking from we manage him better. We just load him less.”

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