Manu Tuilagi is set to be available for England’s first home match of the Six Nations against Ireland after returning from an injury that saw him side-lined for last weekend’s fixture against Scotland.
The 28-year-old centre – who came off with a groin strain in England’s opening Six Nations loss to France – has re-joined training this week.
Tuilagi is central to England’s fast and aggressive game-plane, and this news will buoy the England players in their preparation for what has become a make-or-break clash against Ireland at Twickenham next weekend.
Last time out against Scotland, Tuilagi was clearly missed. Jonathan Joseph is an able replacement, but he is a different kind of player: more of a running centre who looks to find chinks in oncoming defences rather than blast through them. In the wind and wet of Murrayfield, England could have really done with Tuilagi’s battering ram approach to breaching the gain line.
The dilemma still remains over what to do about George Ford and Owen Farrell. Farrell is obviously less comfortable at inside centre and has had a pretty bad start to the Six Nations by his standards.
Meanwhile, Ford’s performance against Scotland delineated what he brings to the team. His tactical kicking is fantastic, and I think he has a better playing relationship with England’s running forwards than Farrell – a central aspect to England’s attacking play.
Ireland, at a dry Twickenham, will prove a different test for England in comparison to Scotland in last week’s dire conditions. Farrell versus Farrell, too, will be an exciting one. No one will know more than Andy Farrell that his son is less comfortable at twelve than he is ten, and it will be interesting to see if he looks to expose this discomfort.
Regardless of who’s playing at ten or twelve, England are strongest when Manu Tuilagi is in the team, and his return will prove a big boost in a must-win game against the Irish.
By Will Sewell.