Ben Youngs insists Manu Tuilagi’s rampaging World Cup return is made more meaningful by the protracted battle against injury that almost led to his retirement.
England underwhelmed in dispatching Tonga 35-3 at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday but the display of their Anglo-Samoan wrecking ball offered a rallying point amid the post-match wave of dissatisfaction.
Two tries in six minutes from Tuilagi helped propel Eddie Jones’ men out of sight and the 28-year-old’s muscular running tormented his fellow Islanders throughout.
It was his first World Cup appearance since 2011 after a succession of major injuries laid waste to his career and Youngs, his Leicester team-mate, believes he is now restored to world class.
“Manu was devastating. When he’s in that form you just want to give him the ball and let things happen around him,” Youngs said.
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“He was exceptional. He’s such a physical player who is hard to stop. He gives us a lot of go-forward.
“It’s crazy that it’s eight years since he played at a World Cup and that’s why I’m so pleased for him. You can see how much he’s enjoying it
“At some stages he potentially thought that was it for him. Now he’s back on the world stage you can see he’s one of the best players in the game.
“People want to watch him and he gets fans on their feet. Four years on he’s showing the world what he’s about.”
England’s hectic start to the World Cup continues against the USA on Thursday, the second match in a four-day turnaround that then leads to a lengthy break in their Pool C hostilities.
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Jones believes that facing the Eagles will be like confronting “15 Donald Trumps” and the Australian head coach names his starting XV on Tuesday morning when he must ask at least 17 players to back-up.
As one of only two scrum-halves in the 31-man squad, Youngs will have to be involved in both games.
“It’s fine. The competition back home is relentless so we’re pretty used to it by now,” Youngs said.
“There will be a huge emphasis on recovery and we’ll probably only have one session until we play. It will be a full 31-man job.”
Youngs insists opponents like Tonga and the USA will not surrender without a fight, but accepts that England fell some way short of their best in their tournament opener.
“We are fully aware that there’s a grinding down phase against this teams,” he said.
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“You saw it on Friday night between Russia and Japan and even Namibia took time before they were ground down by Italy. These teams hang in there and Tonga were no different.
“Every side has a good 40 minutes in them, no matter what their tier ranking or their build-up.
“We managed the game well against Tonga and did just enough in the end, probably cruised in second gear a bit.
“But we’ll take that for sure, we got the bonus point and we’re up and running. You just want to get the first game under your belt.”
England attempted to put a positive spin on their disjointed start, taking refuge in the bonus point and absence of injury, but there were a few dissenting voices in Red Rose ranks.
Scrum coach Neal Hatley described the performance as “scratchy” while hooker Jamie George admitted “there’s frustration in the way we made a lot of mistakes”.
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