x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tuilagi at England’s disposal in Six Nations finale

Leicester centre is back from a torn pectoral muscle injury as Ireland coach Joe Schmidt praised by Johnny Sexton before Ireland make run at possible milestone win against France in Six Nations Rugby.

England centre Manu Tuilagi is healthy again after a torn pectoral muscle and could be on the bench to face Italy on Saturday. David Rogers / Getty Images
England centre Manu Tuilagi is healthy again after a torn pectoral muscle and could be on the bench to face Italy on Saturday. David Rogers / Getty Images

England may recall Manu Tuilagi to the bench to reinforce their final assault on the Six Nations title.

Tuilagi is available, having recovered from the torn pectoral muscle that has sidelined him for six months, although he has had only one club appearance for Leicester Tigers since his return.

The challenge facing England at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday is to overwhelm Italy and cut into Ireland’s imposing points difference, in case the title is decided on those grounds.

Stuart Lancaster, the coach, is reluctant to change the starting XV who excelled in defeating Wales 29-18 at the weekend, but he views Tuilagi as a possible replacement.

Mindful of the impact Tuilagi could have on a match demanding an avalanche of tries, Lancaster may decide he needs the wrecking-ball British & Irish Lions centre at his disposal.

“If we were to go down the route of using him on the bench he’d certainly have a big impact,” said Lancaster, who would drop Alex Goode from the replacements if he opts for Tuilagi’s firepower.

“We didn’t feel that it was right to involve Manu against Wales because of his lack of training time with us. We’d be more comfortable bringing him in for this weekend.

“One option is for him to cover wing and we have both Jack Nowell and Jonny May who can cover 15.”

England trimmed their squad to 23 last night. The team will be announced tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Johnny Sexton of Ireland hailed Joe Schmidt as “the best coach around,” and is confident the New Zealander can lead the side to their first win in France since 2000.

Brian O’Driscoll’s stunning hat-trick from that 27-25 victory still resonates, with Ireland unable to repeat that winning feat for a generation.

Sexton, the Racing Metro playmaker, said he believes an Ireland win would surpass the achievements of O’Driscoll and captain Keith Wood’s 2000 vintage, a first Six Nations title since 2009 adding extra weight.

“I think we’ve got the best coach around; I think we’re going to go in with a game plan that everyone trusts,” Sexton said. “I think we’re full of confidence, we think that we can go there and do the job.

“We don’t get too bogged down in ‘we haven’t won there for this long, we haven’t done this or that’, and so on.

“We’ll be very much focused on how we’ll beat them with our attacking moves, with the defence we use on the day.

“The history will be talked about by everyone else and I think it’s better like that for us.”

Should Ireland defeat France in Paris, they will be all but assured of the title on the strength of their points difference of plus-49. France have a hope, as well, if they beat the Irish at the Stade de France and England are shocked in Rome.

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