Towering Tuilagi powers through to stake England claim

Leeds 9 Leicester 15
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The Independent Online

It is an intriguing thought. If Manu Tuilagi can maintain his current rate of progress, what's to stop him forcing his way into the England side ahead of the World Cup? The 19-year-old centre underlined his burgeoning talent again yesterday by scoring a try that helped Leicester to their seventh straight Aviva Premiership victory.

Tuilagi, the youngest of six brothers, qualifies for England on residency grounds and has already represented the Red Rose at various junior levels and, most recently, the Saxons. A senior cap now surely beckons the hulking teenager, whose performance yesterday suggested he has a few rough edges to his game that need smoothing out, but his talent is undeniable.

"Could Manu go to the World Cup? It's not beyond the realms of possibility," Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby, said. "He needs to play well for us first and he's been doing that. He's a bit naive at certain things but he will develop.

"Having the Saxons experience has helped him, I'm sure. Against the Irish Wolfhounds recently, he missed a tackle in the first couple of minutes and they scored a try. Those lessons have to be learned. He's in the right place here and let's just give him the chance to develop."

Tuilagi collected a pass from Jeremy Staunton, the fly-half, to power over the line from close range to put Leicester ahead in the fourth minute. A conversion and a penalty from Staunton put the Tigers 10-0 up.

It would have been for Leeds, bottom of the table all season, to have buckled at that point. They did not. Adrian Jarvis, a recent arrival from Bristol, replaced the injured Ceiron Thomas in the 26th minute and landed three penalty goals to cut Leicester's lead to a point.

Now the momentum was with the home side as Leicester began to falter in conditions made difficult owing to incessant rain. However, Scott Hamilton's fine break in the 52nd minute gave Alesana Tuilagi, 10 years Manu's senior, the chance to race clear and bulldoze his way past Leigh Hinton to cross the line.

Leeds continued to probe and it took a fine tackle from Horacio Agulla to deny replacement Luther Burrell a try seven minutes from time. Indeed, when the final whistle sounded it came as a blessed relief to the Tigers, as Leeds, typically, fell short despite an admirable effort.

Neil Back, the Leeds head coach, at least had the consolation of a losing bonus-point. He said: "We are bitterly disappointed, we started the first half poorly and gave them too much respect. We can't do that against the top sides and that was the main topic of conversation at half-time.

"We performed much better in the second half and it was an outstanding tackle to stop Luther Burrell scoring late on, but with a scrum deep in their territory we should be coming away with points.

"But if we keep playing like that we'll get enough points to stay in the Premiership."

Leeds: Penalty Jarvis 3. Leicester: Tries M Tuilagi 4, A Tuilagi. Conversion Staunton. Penalty Staunton.

Leeds Hinton; Blackett, Fa'afili, Barrow, Stephenson; Thomas (Jarvis, 26), Fury; Hardy (MacDonald, 40), Nilsen, Swainston (Gomez, 32), Denton (Craig, 32), Wentzel (sin-bin: 60-70), Myall, Oakley, To'oala (Browne, 58).

Leicester Hamilton; Agulla, Tuilagi, Allen, A Tuilagi (sin-bin: 60-70); Staunton, Grindal; Ayerza, Chuter, Bucknall, Mafi, Skivington, Newby (Green, 75), Woods, Waldrom.

Referee JP Doyle.

* Second-placed Saracens won 29-15 at Northampton in the Premiership on Saturday. The home side led 10-6 at the break, with Jon Clarke's converted try the difference. But Goode's third penalty and a converted Brad Barritt try gave Saracens the lead. Though Paul Diggin brought Saints to within a point Matthew Stevens' try, a Goode penalty and Barritt's drop-goal won it.

The Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall, claimed Northampton's failure to cash in on a two-man advantage was the key to his side's victory. A depleted Sarries scored 13 unanswered points after prop Carlos Nieto was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball at a ruck and fly-half Owen Farrell joined him when hitting Shane Geraghty with a late tackle. "They had the opportunity to kick the ball in the corner when it was 10-3 but, when he [Stephen Myler] missed that penalty, it gave us a lot of encouragement," McCall said. "I'm delighted with... how we stepped up to it."

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