British and Irish Lions 2013: Manu Tuilagi thrown in at the deep end on his debut

Leicester star to play in less familiar No 12 role as support grows for Jonny Wilkinson call-up

Perth

The last time the British and Irish Lions played in Western Australia, a dozen years ago, they made the peculiar decision to cast an outside centre as brilliant as Brian O'Driscoll in the unfamiliar role of full-back – an experience the Irishman enjoyed so much, he has never shown the slightest interest in repeating it. Tomorrow, in the same rugby backwater, his midfield partner will be the one playing out of position. It remains to be seen whether the great man has any more fun this time.

Manu Tuilagi's first Lions appearance will be in the No 12 shirt and while this is not a complete surprise – when Warren Gatland, the head coach, selected only one specialist inside centre in Jamie Roberts, it was obvious that someone would have to make do and mend – it is something of a calculated risk. The human bowling ball's flirtation with the position against South Africa last summer never had the look of permanence about it, and while he loses nothing to Roberts in terms of physical power, he is hardly a creative genius armed with a siege-gun kicking game. If it goes wrong, O'Driscoll may not receive a pass and be given nothing to chase.

O'Driscoll knows what it is to confront the Samoa-born Tuilagi and his special brand of South Seas-style scattergun rugby, and had a wry smile on his face when asked if he might find life easier being on the same side for once. "Wherever Manu goes, he creates holes," the Dubliner said. "Actually, I think he has a really good range to his game: people see his strong ball-carrying and his power in contact, but he has other skills that don't receive the credit they deserve. Where he runs, I'll be following."

Tuilagi then played his part in the mutual appreciation game, suggesting that O'Driscoll would be the man doing the leading. "Me following him? I reckon it will be the other way round," remarked the Leicester man. "He's the legend. I remember his famous try against the Wallabies on the 2001 Lions tour. Whatever he says during this game, I'll be like… yeah."

If Gatland is viewing Tuilagi as a genuine alternative to Roberts for the inside-centre role come the Test matches – for all Owen Farrell's decision-making frailties against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, he remains a pure outside-half in the coach's eyes – O'Driscoll's status as senior Lion and beating heart of the squad means he is just a couple of decent performances away from nailing down a starting place against the Wallabies. Listening to him yesterday, it was clear that the notion of playing midweek back-up to excellent Welsh centre Jonathan Davies had not occurred to him.

"People talk about the try I scored in the Brisbane Test back in '01," he said, having been reminded for the umpteenth time of his grandest statement in a Lions shirt. "But people also talk of the ferocity of the second Test against the Springboks in 2009, and of what happened to us in New Zealand in 2005." In other words, it has not all been wine and roses. Three Test series and three defeats? We really should be talking vinegar and thorns.

"None of us in this squad has won a series as a Lion," O'Driscoll emphasised to his audience. "I haven't lost any of the buzz about pulling on the shirt, but it's one thing doing that and another thing doing what we're here to do. We have to build our levels of ruthlessness. We have to make ourselves difficult to beat."

When he takes charge against Western Force in Perth, he will lead one of the most Irish-heavy sides in recent Lions memory: more than half the starting line-up will be from the Emerald Isle, including four of the pack – the prop Cian Healy, the hooker Rory Best, the flanker Sean O'Brien and the No 8 Jamie Heaslip – and both half-backs in Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton.

Talking of the J-word, there is likely to be a renewed surge of support for a Jonny Wilkinson call-up as a result of Gatland's latest bulletin on his walking wounded. While O'Brien has been passed fit following a knee injury, the tour captain Sam Warburton is still struggling with a more serious version of the same issue. (Gatland expects him to be fit for the weekend meeting with Queensland Reds in Brisbane. If he fails to make that date, the Wales flanker's position in the squad will be a matter for serious debate.)

However, the principal medical concern right now is Rob Kearney. The Irish full-back, such an impressive contributor in South Africa four years ago, is not responding to treatment for a torn hamstring and is moving closer by the day to an early flight home. Should the worst come to the worst, Gatland will find himself under significant public pressure to send for Wilkinson rather than a like-for-like replacement.

Having finally completed a 10-month tour of duty with the reigning European champions Toulon – he missed out on a major double when he and his colleagues lost to Castres in last weekend's French Top 14 championship final – the World Cup-winning stand-off is now available to Gatland.

And while the coach believes him to be ill-suited to managing the kind of attacking game he wants his Lions to play, Wilkinson's big-match experience and ability to close out tight contests with the boot may yet play a part in the tour hierarchy's thinking.

Arts and Entertainment
Dennis Stinchcombe, of Broad Plain Boys' Club in Bristol, by a Banksy artwork, titled 'Mobile Lovers', where the sale and handover have been completed at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, where it was on display to the public.
artHuge price will help to keep a 120-year-old youth club in Bristol open
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
News
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Life and Style
Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, dropped out of Stanford University just before graduation to develop his app
techAnd yes, it is quite a lot
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

Charles Dickens: A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery