Matt O'Connor: Tuilagi has role in England’s autumn matches
Leicester coach says latest off-field indiscretion due to frustration at rehab work
Manu Tuilagi: he has managed just one appearance for England off the bench under Eddie Jones. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor believes Manu Tuilagi will play a part in England’s autumn international series despite his recent reprimand for a drunken night out at last week, and suggested he is too valuable a player for Eddie Jones to leave out.
O’Connor also hinted Tuilagi’s latest off-field indiscretion was due to his frustration at being limited to rehab work during the England training camp.
Jones was said to be furious with Tuilagi and Denny Solomona after they returned to the team hotel at 4.30am in a drunken state last Monday, just hours before the only full-contact session of England’s three-day get-together. He sent them home early, and it is understood their behaviour will be taken into consideration when Jones picks his next England squad in late September.
Only 72 hours previously Jones had made clear how desperate he was to select Tuilagi – describing him as the only player at his disposal capable of “ripping the All Blacks apart” after calling him into camp.
O’Connor said that while he expected Tuilagi to be fit for Leicester’s season opener against Bath on September 4th, the 26-year-old centre struggled with being on the periphery within the England fold, where he was not due to be fully involved in the session he missed.
“I would be very surprised if it had further ramifications. Eddie is a smart guy,” said O’Connor. “It was going to be a juggling act [at the England camp] because he couldn’t contribute a lot to the actual rugby part of it. The reality is that Manu made the wrong call, and he has learned from that hopefully and he will be better for it.
“He was isolated off the back of being in rehab all the time, and he wasn’t enjoying all the things that he enjoys doing. We sat down with him and worked out what are the things that excite him about the environment, and tried to expose him to as much of that as we could.
“He is working really hard. We made a conscious decision when he came back out of England camp to expose him to as much rugby as we could because he was incredibly frustrated with not being allowed to do weights, not being allowed to participate with the lads.
“He understands that he made a mistake. He knows he got it wrong. He has come back with a renewed attitude. He understands what the standards are around the England environment.”
Tuilagi’s list of recent injuries is as long as his rap sheet off the field, and he has managed just one appearance for England off the bench under Jones. Over the last few years he has had long-term groin and chest injuries as well as the most recent knee problem, but O’Connor has no doubts Tuilagi is capable of recapturing his best form this season.
“He is doing really well. Injury-wise, he is flying, and in a lot better head-space. Hopefully, he will play against Bath in round one. He loves everything about the game. He loves the contact, he loves competing, he loves running with the ball, he loves defending. He is a pleasure to coach.” Guardian Service