England keep Tuilagi in reserve
Rugby:Manu Tuilagi will have to settle for a place on the replacements bench against Ireland on Sunday as England coach Stuart Lancaster decided to play it safe with his team selection. Lancaster has retained his midfield partnership of Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees for the match at the Aviva Stadium, opting to keep the dangerous Tuilagi in reserve.
It had been thought that Barritt would make way with Twelvetrees moving to inside centre, but with Lancaster clearly wary of the threat posed by the Irish backline England will retain their defensive leader in midfield rather than promote the fit-again Manu Tuilagi to partner Twelvetrees. England need their tackling machine.
As expected, James Haskell comes in for the injured Ben Morgan in England's backrow. It is the Wasps flanker's first Six Nations start since 2011 and he will replace Tom Wood at blind-side, with Wood shifting to number eight, where he finished the game against the Scots.
"We were pleased with our intent to play against Scotland," said Lancaster this morning. "A lot of the players performed very well and with Manu coming back into the equation it gave us some selection decisions.
"But with the centres playing well last week and Manu still returning to match fitness, he and others will give us great options from the bench in what I am sure will be a physical encounter."
Lancaster may have selected differently had Tuilagi been in rampaging form on the training ground following his ankle injury but the management, for now, have opted to stick with the same back division that performed so well against Scotland at Twickenham last weekend. Tom Youngs retains his place at hooker in preference to Dylan Hartley, which leaves Haskell for the injured Morgan as the only change in personnel.
As the attack coach Mike Catt stressed this week, the management were keen to retain Barritt’s defensive skills and calm demeanour, while Twelvetrees and the outhalf Owen Farrell looked as if they had been playing together at test level for years. In such circumstances, the option of using Tuilagi as a second-half impact sub has obvious appeal and has the additional virtue of keeping just about everybody happy.
The Irish back row will be keen to examine England’s reshuffled loose forward trio but Haskell could not be more thrilled at the prospect of starting his first Six Nations game for two years. The Wasps forward was in Japan when Stuart Lancaster took over as England head coach and has experienced mixed feelings watching from afar. “The world didn’t end which I thought it might do. I didn’t know if I’d cry myself to sleep watching them play.
“As a player there have been times, particularly under new coaches, when I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun in terms of not playing for England again. I never knew if I’d get an opportunity again. Back in the autumn I did think to myself: ‘I would definitely be missing this if I hadn’t got back into the squad.‘ You get the smell of the hot-dogs and the fans on those special Twickenham Saturdays. I’ll be a fan one day but at the moment it’s way too soon.”
Injuries to others have helped but the 27-year-old Haskell also says he has been refreshed by his stints playing in France, Japan and New Zealand. “I do feel reinvigorated,” he insisted. “I knew if I went away I’d be more enriched as a person, would probably grow up and come back a better player. Before I went I didn’t have to take a lot of responsibility for myself but I’ve learned I can deal with most things thrown at me. Running out to play for England is just as exciting as it ever was. I’ll keep playing for as long as they want me.”
His priority now is to cement his place again with a host of rivals snapping at his heels. “I’m an older member of the squad and I need to make an impact. You can’t afford to have a soft game. Guys like Billy Vunipola, Matt Kvesic, Calum Clark and Tom Johnson ... there are plenty of other young players coming through as well. It’s about going over there and making sure we impose ourselves.” Additional reporting Guardian Service
England:A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), J Launchbury (London Wasps), G Parling (Leicester Tigers), J Haskell (London Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton Saints). Replacements:D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), M Vunipola (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), T Waldrom (Leicester Tigers), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers).