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
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering