Tuilagi tries for a different kind of splash

 

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The Independent Online

Manu Tuilagi remains a little sensitive about diving references following the furore over his exploits in Auckland harbour the day after England's elimination from the World Cup, so he is probably not viewing this weekend's highly charged Premiership contest between Saracens and Leicester as a springboard for an immediate return to international rugby. "You learn and you move on," said the Samoan-born centre yesterday in response to yet another question about his Tom Daley impersonation. Would he leap from a passenger ferry again, if asked by one of mates? "No. Let's leave it there."

It may well be that Tuilagi can indeed "leave it there". Back in the England shake-up after a painful problem with his left eye socket, which now has a metal plate holding together half a dozen small and comprehensively shattered bones, and a frustrating spell nursing a twanged hamstring, he is the first to acknowledge that the standards of behaviour set by Stuart Lancaster and his coaching colleagues are at the heart of a vibrant new approach to red-rose rugby. He is much less likely to be urged to do something dumb, for the very good reason that those doing the urging would find themselves in equally deep water. So to speak.

"Things have been clarified," said the Leicester midfielder. "I was in the World Cup review meeting up at Leeds" – the get-together called by Lancaster as a means of drawing a line under the scandals and stupidities of the soiled campaign in New Zealand – "and it was a good meeting. I feel I've grown up a lot, both as a player and as a person: I know now that there is attention on me as an international sportsman: that I have to take that into account and make better decisions in future. Getting back into the team will be a matter of putting in the work on the training field. I know I can't rely on what I've done in the past."

Along with the Leicester outside-half Toby Flood and the Northampton lock Courtney Lawes, both of whom are playing their way back to full fitness after knee injuries, Tuilagi is a World Cup performer desperate to find a Six Nations stage on which to prove his worth to the caretaker regime. All three players would, under different circumstances, have started in Edinburgh at the beginning of the month. Now, two victories on, they must train the house down and wait for an opportunity.

"I'm ready to go," Tuilagi insisted, in tones that underlined his determination to prove as much at Vicarage Road on Sunday. "Leicester are always hard on their players, so after I fractured my eye socket [in an accidental collision with the bullet-headed Gloucester hooker Scott Lawson], they said I had no excuse to stop training. I ran a lot during that period, so my lungs are in good shape."

The human bowling ball may or may not start against Wales, but he will feature in the Six Nations at some point. Just as long as he stays fit. And dry.

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