Tuilagi gives Lancaster a selection headache
England's Manusamoa Tuilagi in full flight. The 21-year-old Leicester Tigers centre was passed fit to train today and may be included in the team to face Ireland.
RUGBY:England are expected to make two changes for Sunday’s meeting with Ireland at the Aviva stadium. One is enforced as Gloucester’s hulking number eight Ben Morgan looks increasingly unlikely to recover from ankle damage sustained against Scotland last Saturday.
The other being the return of Manusamoa Tuilagi.
The 21-year-old Leicester Tigers centre was passed fit to train today at their base camp, Pennyhill Park hotel in Surrey.
Tuilagi missed the 38-18 dismissal of Scotland at Twickenham due to an ankle problem, forcing head coach Stuart Lancaster to alter the backline that made the great All Black centre Conrad Smith look decidedly average at Twickenham on December 1st.
However, the Lancaster change worked, with Billy Twelvetrees making an impressive Six Nations debut at inside centre, with South African-born Brad Barritt shifted to outside.
The expectation is a fit Tuilagi will return to the number 13 jersey, with Barritt missing out on the squad altogether.
“There are selection decisions across the field and that’s one of them,” said Lancaster. “Billy played well and Brad’s contribution as always was positive but Manu brings a unique set of skills and attributes to the game and the team, as we saw in his performance against the All Blacks.”
Tuilagi confirmed his potential as a world class midfield attacker in England’s stunning 38-21 destruction of the world champions.
His anticipated return for Sunday should give the Samoan born, naturalised Englishman, the opportunity to initiate hand to hand combat with Brian O’Driscoll.
It’s a duel that has been postponed due to O’Driscoll’s injuries, missing last year’s St Patrick’s Day nightmare and the 2011 World Cup warm-up when the 110 kilogram Tuilagi swatted Keith Earls aside before crossing for a try.
“Genuinely, I’ll wait and see how he trains tomorrow and on Wednesday before I make any decisions on the centre partnership,” Lancaster continued. “The reason I prefer to announce the team later in the week (like Ireland, on Friday) is that it allows me to look at the players in training and see who’s up to speed and who isn’t.
“I watched Manu through the course of last week, I could see he was back to running and changing direction. He has missed a few games, but I’m confident we’ll be able to use him after a full week’s training.”
Barritt’s place in the squad comes under threat as Toby Flood covers outhalf and centre, while Saracens David Strettle ensures the back three will never lack pace.
Switching from blindside
Morgan is expected to be replaced by James Haskell, with the hugely impressive Tom Wood switching from blindside to number eight.
Billy Vunipola’s ankle injury – the Wasps’ number eight underwent a fitness test yesterday – sees a call up for Saracens’ Will Fraser.
“We have done quite a bit of work with Tom (at number eight) over the autumn as well as the start of the Six Nations,” Lancaster said.
“James Haskell brings a different set of qualities to Ben Morgan. In Saturday’s cameo performance he turned a couple of balls over and made 10 tackles.
“A lot of number eight work is managing the ball at the base. That is clearly something we need to work with Tom on.”
Options for the bench are Leicester number eight and New Zealand-born Thomas Waldrom, the German-born (but of Croatian origin) Worcester backrow Matt Kvesic or Fraser. “Ben is still in a (moon) boot,” Lancaster added. “The last prognosis is that he will struggle to be available for the weekend, but I’ll know definitely tomorrow (today).”
Earls (shoulder) and Peter O’Mahony (concussion) will not take a full part in training this morning with their situation to be monitored throughout the week. Earls sees a specialist today, opening the door for Fergus McFadden or Luke Fitzgerald.
The Ireland camp also expects Gordon D’Arcy (leg), Mike Ross (calf) and Rob Kearney (back) to be available for selection.
Finally, England will complete their preparations for the 2015 World Cup with a game against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday, September 5th, 13 days before the tournament gets underway.
England are playing host to the event and have also lined up two games against France, at Twickenham on August 15th and away on August 22nd.
The game against England is also likely to be Ireland’s final game before the tournament begins.
France squad Saint-Andre keeps faith
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has kept faith with the players humbled by Italy for his side’s second game against Wales on Saturday. Saint-Andre has made just one enforced change to his side, with injured captain Pascal Pape replaced by Toulon lock Jocelino Suta.
Backrow forward Thierry Dusautoir will return to the captaincy in the absence of Pape, who suffered a lower back injury during the shock 23-18 defeat at the Stadio Olimpico.
Saint-Andre has called for a much-improved team effort against a Wales. “To work with this group and refine the team’s rhythm for this short week, we have not made any changes except for the injury to Pascal Pape,” he said.
FRANCE (squad v Wales) Forwards: V Debaty (Clermont), Y Forestier (Castres), B Kayser (Clermont), D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), L Ducalcon (Racing Metro), N Mas (Perpignan), Y Maestri (Toulouse), J Suta (Toulon), R Taofifenua (Perpignan), D Chouly (Clermont), T Dusautoir (capt, Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Backs: M Machenaud (Racing Metro), M Parra (Clermont), F Michalak (Toulon), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Bastareaud (Toulon), B Fall (Racing Metro), W Fofana (Clermont), F Fritz (Toulouse), Y Huget (Toulouse), M Mermoz (Toulon).