Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester Tigers and England centre, will almost certainly play no part in this year’s final four internationals. But given the team’s recent success, do England need the midfield bruiser?
The answer: Yes, absolutely.
After Leicester’s win against Bath, Tuilagi was ruled out for six to eight weeks by Richard Cockerill due to recurring difficulties with his groin injury, effectively ending any chances that Tuilagi would play for England this Autumn.
Manu Tuilagi out for 6-8 weeks with groin problem ( again )
Rotten, rotten luck. Will we ever see him again at his best ?#fingerscrossed
— Mick Cleary (@MickClearyTel) September 25, 2016
— #RugbyEngland (@RugbyEng) September 26, 2016
Manu Tuilagi will reportedly be out of action for another 6-8 weeks with his groin injury. Hope he will be back to his best after that.
— Rugby World (@Rugbyworldmag) September 25, 2016
England may have won ten games in a row since Eddie Jones took over at the helm, but that does not hide the fact they need Manu Tuilagi. Sure, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph have performed well in the centre roles, but to beat New Zealand and become the number one team in the world, England must have a ball carrier in the backline. And there is no better man for that task than Tuilagi.
At the moment, the England outside backs are quick and nibble, but what they don’t have is any power to get over the gain line. To overcome the All Blacks, England would need to keep the New Zealand defence going backwards to prevent it getting into shape or slowing down their ball at the ruck. In fact, as a team, England are actually short of ball carriers in general.
That’s why Billy Vunipola is so integral to England’s attack, but only Manu Tuilagi can perform a similar role in the backs.
Tuilagi, having destroyed New Zealand in 2012, is also perhaps the only player in England’s ranks who the All Blacks might fear. That, in turn, would create space for the quick feet of Antony Watson and Jack Nowell out wide. Joseph may well glide around the field in style, but Tuilagi can bulldoze.
So although it’s tempting to rule Tuilagi out of having a key role in England’s current renaissance given their good run of results since the turn of the year, his return (whenever that is) will give England a crucial extra dimension to their attack, and one that’s badly needed.
That said, with the Farrell-Joseph combination, at least England are now developing a partnership in the centre that means they don’t rely quite so much on the Leicester battering ram. They will still need him though if the team is to fulfil its potential in the coming years.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena