Manu Tuilagi has only recently returned from injury.
Writing in The Telegraph this morning, Austin Healey has argued that Eddie Jones should select Manu Tuilagi in midfield against Wales.
Although both Eddie Jones and Leicester Tigers coach, Richard Cockerill, have claimed that the centre is not yet fit enough to play anything close to 80 minutes of international rugby, Healey believes otherwise, claiming that if Tuilagi is given time off ahead of the Wales game he will be fit enough to play.
International games, while they come with a little bit more intensity, are not always quicker than club games. So the question of fitness is more about what a player does in the week in the build-up to a Test match.
The difficulty will be Manu’s down time during the week. If Richard Cockerill speaks to Eddie Jones and says: “Look, at the minute he is not training Mondays, Tuesdays, is off his feet on Wednesdays and is back in on Thursday and Friday” – if that can be managed, then Wales are the side that you want him playing against.
This logic seems strange to say the least. If Tuilagi cannot train effectively over the course of next week, there is little chance of him being fit or sharp enough to start against Wales.
Indeed, given the fact that he has only returned from injury, to do so would represent a serious gamble. Jones would therefore be better served introducing the centre in the final twenty minutes and asking him give as much as possible in that time.
However Healey believes that Tuilagi should be selected on the basis of stopping Jamie Roberts on the gain line. Something that Sam Burgess did effectively against Wales during the World Cup.
Even though Sam Burgess attracted criticism, when he was on the field he did nullify Wales’s big player of the moment, Jamie Roberts. Burgess stopped him on the gain line and held that midfield together…
When Burgess went off against Wales, the game was won. England were 12 points ahead, but then they just got destroyed. The first thing that Roberts did was carry the ball forward 10 yards in the tackle, Wales went around the corner and scored the try.
What you need is someone who secures and intimidates the nine-10-12 axis of Wales, because that is where it has really been working for them this year. Manu is the player who can do that.
If Jones is to start Tuilagi at inside centre, Healey believes that Owen Farrell should move to fly half, with George Ford dropping to the bench. Although many supporters would agree with such a selection, it is doubtful that Jones will gamble by selecting Tuilagi from the start.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena