Six Nations 2014: Manu Tuilagi nearing return to fray but Stuart Lancaster's focus is on beating Wales

England coach has 'learned lessons' from last year's defeat

Manu Tuilagi has not set foot on the field of play since last September, but it was a mark of the human bowling ball's star quality that he should be the talk of the town in his chosen sport. In two sports, to be precise.

While Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, was talking enthusiastically about the Leicester centre's imminent reappearance in the red-rose training camp, Tuilagi himself was dismissing speculation about a possible cross-code switch to rugby league - a move now known in the trade as a "reverse Burgess".

After three weeks of feverish debate about the short-term international prospects of Sam Burgess, who will turn his back on the 13-man game this autumn in favour of a new career in the 15-man version, the Samoa-born midfielder described as "utter rubbish" rumours that he might be considering a shift in the opposite direction by joining the Super League club Salford Red Devils.

This seemed clear enough, and after Simon Cohen, the Leicester chief executive, suggested that Salford's chances of affording the transfer fee depended on them being taken over by Bill Gates, the subject had about as much life left in it as Monty Python's parrot.

There seemed more chance of England throwing Tuilagi straight back into their starting line-up for the big Six Nations meeting with Wales on Sunday week - and as Lancaster indicated, this was not about to happen.

"It would," said the coach, "be a very big ask", which, roughly translated from his native Cumbrian, meant "not a cat's hope in hell". All the same, Lancaster expressed considerable relief that Tuilagi was finally back in some kind of rugby shape after a five-month recovery from a chest injury.

Together with Marland Yarde, the London Irish wing who forced his way into England's starting line-up before Christmas then broke down with orthopaedic hassles of his own, Tuilagi will feature in this weekend's Premiership programme before being reacquainted with the Test elite on Monday. Both men will make the cut for the three-Test series against the All Blacks in June, assuming they stay fit, and once they are fully back in the mix, Lancaster will have the devil's own job deciding on his optimum XV.

The coach has more pressing matters on his plate at present, however: namely, the meeting with the reigning Six Nations champions, whose comprehensive victory over France in Cardiff six days ago breathed new life into their title defence. As expected, Lancaster has kept Ben Morgan at the team base in Surrey - the Gloucester No 8 will replace the injured Billy Vunipola against Wales - and unless something unforeseen happens in training, this will be the only change to the starting line-up.

"Billy is still a very young international player, but I think he's demonstrated fantastic potential," the coach said. "He has a great work ethic, a strong carrying game and he thrives on big occasions, so he's a big loss to us. But Ben has similar abilities - he's a dead-set, like for like replacement - and he's been itching for an opportunity. I'm sure he'll be ready come Sunday week. It's a real chance for him."

Lancaster acknowledged the difficulties created by injuries over the course of the season, but did not for a second sound as though he felt sorry for himself. "Collectively, we've been unlucky - particularly with Leicester players who are also England players," he said, referring to the tight-head prop Dan Cole, the lock Geoff Parling and the flanker Tom Croft, as well as Tuilagi, their fellow Test Lion. "We've had a lot of key people picking up injuries that have kept them out for months rather than weeks, and it's been a challenge because our depth is being tested. But to win a World Cup you need strength across the board, so it's a good thing for us in the long run."

Inevitably, he was reminded of events at the Millennium Stadium last March, when England crossed the Severn Bridge with their eyes on a Grand Slam and ended up being slammed to within an inch of their lives. Again, he took care to strike a positive note. "Definitely, there were lessons learnt that day," he said, "and Wales have moved on since then. But so have we in terms of our game understanding and game management. The main thing we took from it was the need to keep our composure when the score turns against us.

"We lost composure in Cardiff and made a bad job worse. It was hard to take, no doubt about it: when you win four games out of four and then lose the Grand Slam and the championship in one go, it's tough.

"But no team stays unbeaten in international rugby, so the important thing is how you respond to a loss. Since that point last season we've become a lot more experienced at dealing with difficult situations, although the trick, of course, is not to put yourselves in those positions in the first place."

Might Ireland's recent victory over Wales in Dublin be a template for England? Lancaster was uncertain on this point. "I think the Irish played extremely well that day, but I don't think there's a template for beating any team if I'm honest. It's about making good decisions in the moment. That's what the best players do."

Such players also make it their business to "connect" with the referee, as the Wales flanker Sam Warburton undoubtedly did with Steve Walsh of Australia 13 months ago. While Lancaster emphasised that England did not lose that game because of the officiating - "We were beaten fair and square," he said - he was unusually frustrated by Walsh's performance at the time. Next weekend, Romain Poite of France will be in control, a man who restricts himself to a few stock English phrases and should therefore be less open to influence. There again, the Wales lock Luke Charteris speaks fluent French. Oh well.

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing