Eddie Jones relishing the prospect of unleashing revitalised Manu Tuilagi

After enjoying his best run of form since Jones became England head coach, the Leicester Tigers man is firmly in contention to start against the Springboks

Jack de Menezes
Vilamoura
Thursday 25 October 2018 18:48
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Manu Tuilagi is back in business after recovering from his latest injury setback
Manu Tuilagi is back in business after recovering from his latest injury setback

Eddie Jones is relishing the prospect of unleashing a Manu Tuilagi that is “getting close to his best” after taking his England squad to Portugal in the hope of kick-starting their 2018 season and proving the road to the Rugby World Cup is not a doomed one.

Having previously embarked on short camps in the Algarve, Jones decided to take a 36-man squad to Vilamoura in order to maximise the number of days they can spend warm-weather training, given they are not due to fly back to London until next Thursday - two days before the first autumn internationals against South Africa.

The next two days will prove pivotal in deciding whether Tuilagi is part of the line-up for that match, but after enjoying his best run of form since Jones became England head coach, the Leicester Tigers man is firmly in contention to start against the Springboks.

Having played all but two club games this season, Tuilagi delivered a try-scoring showcase against the Scarlets last Friday that left Jones licking his lips at what could be at his disposal less than a year out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“Manu is getting back to his best, definitely moving in the right direction,” Jones said on Thursday. “The good thing is he is doing the basics brilliantly; that is really important going forward. We want him to do the basics brilliantly and if he can keep doing that then we are going to be in a good position.

"What I was pleased about in the Leicester game was that he was just brilliant at the basics. He did all the simple things really well.

“When he had the opportunity to run hard and through gaps he did, made his tackles, did his clean-out work, really good basics.

"We are looking forward to seeing more of that from Manu.

"He's in good physical condition. His GPS, the measure of his running metrics during the game, was very similar to a Test match.

"He's certainly not far away."

That has raised the possibility of Tuilagi pairing up with Lions centre Ben Te’o, who is back in the squad after undergoing surgery to reattach his right thigh muscle to a tendon in his knee in the summer. Te’o has only played 28 minutes this season after making his first appearance for Worcester at the weekend, but while it will leave England exposed fitness-wise, it would represent one of England’s largest centre pairings ever.

But it will also depend on how Jones decides to lay out his back line, with Henry Slade also in the mix and the possibility of the George Ford-Owen Farrell partnership being restored if Farrell doesn’t start at fly-half.

One player who would have been considered is Alex Lozowski, but the Saracens centre picked up an additional one-week ban that rules him out of the match with the Springboks after initially only being banned for a fortnight. Lozowski has appealed the decision as well as the extension, but the waters were muddied further when European Professional Club Rugby appealed a second charge against him that was dismissed last week.

Manu Tuilagi in action for Tigers

“Both he and Manu have come into camp and they look like they’ll compete for spots,” Jones added.

“There’s no reason why they can’t [play together]. You’ve got those two, Sladey [Henry Slade] and whatever happens to Alex, whether it’s 10 or 15 weeks, or whatever, no one knows.

“I’m sure someone will work it out further down the track. We’ve got good competition there.”

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