What Marcus Smith has made of Manu Tuilagi's England squad return
Marcus Smith had admitted he is loving rubbing shoulders once more with the fit-again Manu Tuilagi, someone he vividly remembers watching in person as an eleven-year-old kid at Twickenham scoring his first England way back in 2011. The Sale powerhouse has only played a total of 46 times for his country in an injury-hit career but he is now back in Eddie Jones’ squad ahead of the February 27 Guinness Six Nations match at home to Wales.
Tuilagi damaged a hamstring when scoring for England last November versus South Africa but he is now back in the international mix after proving his fitness in recent weeks with Sale following an eleven-week layoff.
His inclusion at this week’s 25-man training camp in London indicates that Eddie Jones will likely look at reprising the midfield combination he started against the Springboks of Tuilagi and Henry Slade. Whatever the selection decision next week, new England talisman Smith is enjoying having the big fella around the set-up again.
“He is a brilliant player,” said Smith on Wednesday about the 30-year-old Tuilagi, who burst on the scene eleven years ago with a score against Wales in the run-up to the World Cup in New Zealand.
“When I was very young I used to watch him play and I even watched his first try at Twickenham which was quite special, the dummy switch with Jonny Wilkinson. To be able to play with him is special. I played one or two games in the autumn with him and it’s brilliant to have him back in camp. He is a ball of energy, all the boys love him and we hopefully can play together one day.
“He is a different player. All our centres are very different in the way they play. Chief [Tuilagi] is a brilliant ball carrier but his skill set as well is undervalued. He can pass off both hands, he can go to the line, tip, dummy, he can do the whole lot. As well as our other centres they are all massive threats at the line and good carriers in their own rights.”
The absence of Tuilagi from the 2022 Six Nations has left Smith absorbing learning from numerous other England players. “I’m very, very grateful I have got a brilliant group of backs and forwards around me, all guys that have got brilliant skill sets, all want to play the game in a similar way.
“But yeah, I have had to learn a lot off of some of the backs in Henry Slade, Elliot Daly, Freddie Steward, George Ford, different ideas of playing rugby and we have tried to come up with our own way to play as England because ultimately we are all wearing the same shirt now and we are not playing for our club sides, so we have to come together pretty quickly and try and play the same way altogether.
“We have said this week we want to work hard as a group, build closer connections, get tighter as it is still a new squad coming together and then work hard for each other, and as we build through the week we are going to start layering in our game plan for Wales.
“But initially today [Wednesday] we are just trying to get to know each other again, be on the same wavelength again since we have been at home with our families and the work hard started with our session this afternoon.”
England reassembled in London after their win over Italy in Rome got them back on winning track in the Six Nations following the opening day loss at Scotland. “It [Italy] was a nice way to finish the block of the first two games. We were extremely disappointed on the back of the Scotland game to only come away with the one point but we quickly shifted our attention to Italy and to get five points down there against a very proud Italian side was good. Very happy with it.”
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