How to Solve a Problem Like Manu

After a series of cumbersome, uncreative players attempting to claim the title of heir apparent to Will Greenwood in the past 10 years, the vastly improved England back play has got many a Red Rose fan excited.

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The new blood of England impressed over this year’s 6 Nations, with the centre partnership of the ever maturing Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell impressing and possibly surprising many a supporter. An obvious question going forward for Stuart Lancaster is what to do with Manu Tuilagi. Twelvetrees and Burrell’s form and the balance they have added to England’s game surely leave them deserving to further press their claims as the men to hold the 12 and 13 jerseys going into next year’s World Cup. But a talent like Tuilagi cannot be ignored. For all his critics regarding his perceived inability, or reluctance to pass stopping him from being a top test centre, his ability to get England to get over the gainline is an invaluable asset, as is his very healthy strike rate of 11 tries in 22 tests.

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So for me, the obvious option for England is to field Tuilagi in his school boy position of wing. Although not possessing the blistering pace of some other wide men, I don’t think this is a problem. We all love a winger who can take the ball and blitz his man on the outside within mere inches of space, but this just not happen in the test arena. Jonny May’s somewhat disappointing 6 Nations campaign is testament to this. A genuine flyer, May was not afforded the space required to put on the after burners on the test arena like he is at Premiership standard.

This bought other aspects of his game under scrutiny, namely the ability to beat a man with footwork or raw power, neither of which was evident. The quality of defence at international level does not lend itself to this type of player, hence why speedster Tom Varndell never got beyond a handful of test caps despite being prolific at both Leicester and Wasps. The best wingers at international level aren’t necessarily the quickest. Wales legend Shane Williams did not possess the raw speed of his wing partner Mark Jones, but his superior footwork took him to over 50 tries.

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If England go to New Zealand this summer and send out a back 3 of Tuilagi, Brown and Jack Nowell, it may not be the quickest in the world, but it will make many a line break, and crucially, put England on the front foot. And from there, anything can happen.

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5 comments

  1. definitely agree with this- my rugby coach has played with Manu an said that he is definitely a winger because although he doesn’t have a great top speed, his acceleration is awesome and he doesn’t have the defensive skills

  2. So Manu Tualagi, who got outpaced by an eldely Geordan Murphy in a World Cup warm-up game in 2011, is going to play wing at the highest level of rugby?
    He will get destroyed in defence out wide in open play

  3. Just need to look at the most closely comparable player in international rugby Ma’a Nonu’s international career to show what a few seasons on the wing did for him. Probably the first third of his all blacks career was built on the wing, and as he has matured he was able to fill in the gaps missing in his game, playmaking, kicking game etc. Tana Umaga did this before him and both players ended up being arguably one of the best midfielders in world rugby.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. I don’t remember Manu being gassed by Geordan Murphy but I do recall him doing Keith Earls and storming 50 meters to the try line who has played plenty of international Rugby on the wing. Of course Tuilagi won’t be the fastest winger in the world but I feel that due to the quality of defense in test rugby that it is quite rare of a winger to get the space to take people on the outside. For all the opportunities that he misses out on due to lack of pace, I think he would make up for by scoring due to his power and ball carrying where England’s other wing options wouldn’t reach the line. Cheers

  5. He went through Earls in the Centre and Geordan Murphy caught up with him after Manu had a good 10 metre head start. The guy has too much bulk to play with the pace needed on the wing. I know he would be dangerous given the ball anywhere on the pitch but you can’t completely substitute pace with power.

    Also, he needs experience on the wing at club level to make the transition onto the wing at international and, as you said, there is space out wide in the premiership that he would not be able to cover. Cheers

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