Maximising the destructive qualities of Manu Tuilagi was the “memo” Leicester’s inside centre Dan Bowden gave himself for Saturday’s 31-6 win over Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road. The post-match report? “I thought it went well,” said Bowden, having seen his midfield colleague pinball past umpteen defenders to set up two of the Premiership champions’ five tries.
“With Manu, you keep talking to him and keep him involved in the game as much as you can,” said Bowden. “When he is involved it is at a ridiculously good level. He might do five or six things in a game that are world class – we’re trying to make him do seven, eight, nine, 10 things that are world class. But I thought he was amazing.”
Bowden showed some high-quality touches himself, slotting into the second playmaker role that was earmarked for the New Zealander when he signed from London Irish in the summer of 2012. But Matt O’Connor, the Leicester backs coach last season who is now at Leinster, did not see eye to eye with Bowden, who also underwent a couple of operations.
England’s head coach is different. Stuart Lancaster spoke to Bowden, who is qualified for England on residency, three weeks ago to let him know he is on the national team’s radar. With last year’s England inside-centre stalwart Brad Barritt injured until Christmas, and no sign of Kyle Eastmond since the Bath No.12 damaged a knee against Newcastle on 6 September, Bowden may have a shout. Gloucester's Billy Twelvetrees is the principal contender.
O’Connor was said to have been dissatisfied with Bowden’s defence – despite a 96 per cent tackle success rate - or perhaps it suffered by comparison with Leicester’s other inside centre, Anthony Allen. “I’m not taking anything away from Anthony,” said Bowden. “He is a fantastic player, he is an amazing defender, he gets over the gainline. I’m trying to be an alternative option and so far this season I think I’ve been doing that.”
A stop-start match served a purpose for Newcastle to test their newly promoted team on hallowed ground well known to their director of rugby Dean Richards. And to Leicester to blood new signings Jamie Gibson and Blaine Scully and reassimilate England internationals Flood, Tuilagi, Ben Youngs and Geoff Parling after assorted lay-offs. Bowden likened the 22-year-old Tuilagi to a trio of blue-chip big’uns he has played with previously: Robbie Fruean at the Crusaders, Johnny Leota [now at Sale] at the Highlanders and Seilala Mapusua at London Irish. “Manu’s threat on the field puts a lot of stress in the opposition,” said Bowden, who scored himself in the second half to add to the tries by Jordan Crane, Graham Kitchener, Scully and Thomas Waldrom. Quality turnovers by Dan Cole helped keep Newcastle tryless.
“It was disappointing not to play with a bit of pomp and desire,” said Flood, the Leicester captain. “But I’ve been in a Newcastle team at Welford Road and I know how hard it is, they wanted something from this. We need to raise it up because we’ve got Exeter away next week and obviously the biggest game of the season for a lot of people, here against Northampton [on 5 October].”