Tuilagi is a boy become a Manu


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The Independent Online

You know that had Manu Tuilagi not David Strettle received what turned out to be England's final pass yesterday, there would have been no need for the video referee. Not even the Welsh defence could handle the Leicester centre's power.

Whenever the Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira gets ball in hand, the crowd chants "Beast" with real menace. It can only be a matter of time before the Twickenham faithful come up with a similar cry to warn the opposition that their adopted Samoan is on the charge.

Tuilagi, who is still only 20, finished last season with all the awards that are given to the best young player in England. He headed to the World Cup as a potential match-winner. He started all five matches in New Zealand – a fact rather overshadowed by his inability to steer clear of off-field controversy – and collected two tries as well as a fine for jumping off an Auckland ferry.

Back home, Tuilagi required a small metal plate to be inserted into his left cheekbone – close to the nose – after an accidental clash of heads in a match against Gloucester, and then a hamstring injury meant that he could not be considered for the Scotland and Italy games that opened England's Six Nations'Championship campaign.

The youngest of six Tuilagi brothers to play for Leicester, Manusamoa, to give him his full name, offers 6ft 1in and 17st 9lb of raw power, but he is so new to the Test arena that he was one of eight England players making their first Six Nations start at Twickenham yesterday. The majority of his eight caps have been won away from home but you could sense the anticipation from the crowd every time the big man got possession.

Granted, they had to wait nearly 15 minutes as Wales monopolised possession with such relish in that opening burst that you feared Tuilagi and his team-mates were going to be in for a long afternoon. In that period Tuilagi introduced himself to Jamie Roberts, his opposite number, on two occasions, refusing to let an even bigger man get over the gain line and putting down a marker that the entire Wales back-line noticed.

It also lifted those around him, with Brad Barritt, his centre partner, also dishing out the big hits to ensure that this was never going to be a one-sided romp for the Welsh. Significantly, after raising the siege England got Tuilagi going forward with the ball in hand, and his first bullocking run took him past Roberts to earn a penalty that Owen Farrell kicked. It was a small but important victory in this head-to-head, and Tuilagi started to become a feature of England's attacking play.

It took a wonderful ankle-high tackle by the Wales captain, Sam Warburton, to deny Tuilagi a try in the 28th minute, after Dylan Hartley and Dave Strettle had used quick line-out ball to great effect. While England failed to cross the Welsh whitewash, they did collect another Farrell penalty thanks to their bustling centre.

However, even that good work was eclipsed when, just before half-time, we saw evidence that Tuilagi was not as one-dimensional as he likes you to think. The Leicester tyro took the ball into contact and knocked Rhys Priestland and Toby Faletau back, and was able to offload to a Tigers clubmate, Dan Cole.

The shock on Cole's face at receiving an offload fromTuilagi was obvious. If this can become one of the prop's attributes, England will have someone with real power and pace to make a dent in the defence. Just like Manu.