Manu Tuilagi backed to handle England position switch against Australia

His only previous Test appearance in the position came under the previous England regime on tour to New Zealand in 2014

Duncan Bech
Thursday 11 November 2021 13:40
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<p>Tuilagi will start on the wing at Twickenham </p>

Tuilagi will start on the wing at Twickenham

Eddie Jones has given Manu Tuilagi a roaming role on the wing at Twickenham on Saturday as he plots to reinforce Australia’s “inferiority complex” over England.

Tuilagi moves from inside centre where he started the 69-3 victory over Tonga that launched the Autumn Nations Series, displacing Adam Radwan and creating space in midfield for Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell.

His only previous Test appearance in the position came under the previous England regime on tour to New Zealand in 2014 when a lack of pace was exposed and the experiment was immediately abandoned.

But Jones insists the 30-year-old wrecking ball is now in peak condition having recently clocked his top speed on GPS and will make an impact by operating as an additional centre instructed to maraud across the pitch.

“I have seen Manu play on the wing and he can handle 12, 13, 11, 14 – he can handle all of those with aplomb,” Jones said.

“I see a powerful player who’s probably in the best condition of his career, who will add to the ball players we’ve got inside and will finish off the movements that we have. He’ll be able to roam on the field, play like a second or third centre.

“Last season Gael Fickou played on the wing for France and was outstanding. The game lends itself to a powerhouse centre so we’re looking forward to him playing there.”

Henry Slade was a candidate to make way for the return of Farrell, who was ruled out against Tonga by a false-positive coronavirus test, but his man-of-the-match performance last Saturday made a compelling case for his retention at outside centre.

Excitement continues to build over Smith after he inspired a late flurry of tries in a cameo appearance and against Australia he takes centre stage as Jones gets his wish of seeing the Harlequins ringmaster alongside Farrell.

“Marcus knows he’s got to build his game. I’ve been really impressed by him since I started working with him on a daily basis since the summer tour,” Jones said.

“He’s progressing in a nice way but it’s his biggest test because he hasn’t played a tier one country yet.”

Manu Tuilagi was in vintage form against Tonga last Saturday (Adam Davy/PA)

England’s pack remains unchanged with Maro Itoje set to win his 50th cap, while a six-two split on the bench between forwards and backs sees a return for Sam Simmonds, who is poised to make his first Red Rose appearance since 2018.

“We think its going to be a pretty high-volume game, it usually is against Australia, with a lot of work in the forwards,” Jones said.

“Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt give us flexibility and variety in terms of their skills and we think they will add to the mix in the last 20 minutes.

“England v Australia games at Twickenham always seem to fall in the last 20 minutes and I don’t think this game will be any different.”

Since replacing Stuart Lancaster as head coach in 2015, Jones has masterminded seven wins from as many outings against Australia but he understands what the fixture means to the nation of his birth.

“I know as an Australian that it’s probably hard for the English to understand what an important game this is for Australia,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Olympics, Test cricket, rugby league….this is the game that defines their season.

“This is the game they want win. We have bit of an inferiority complex against the English, the Australians.”

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