Monday 18 December 2017

Manu Tuilagi benched for England's Six Nations showdown with Wales

Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi

Duncan Bech

England plan to unleash Manu Tuilagi in the second half of Saturday's RBS 6 Nations title showdown at Twickenham after selecting him on the bench against Wales.

Tuilagi will resume his international career after a 21-month exile when he reinforces the final push against Warren Gatland's men in a match destined to decide who will be crowned 2016 champions.

The 24-year-old Leicester centre has been sidelined by a serious groin injury and was also suspended by England for last autumn's World Cup after pleading guilty to assaulting two female police officers during a night out.

"Manu has trained well this week and I'm pleased with what I've seen," head coach Eddie Jones said.

"His selection in the match day squad is based more on potential than his recent performances in the Premiership."

England have named an unchanged starting XV, but there are four changes to the bench in the promotion of Tuilagi, lock Joe Launchbury, prop Kieran Brookes and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.

Cowan-Dickie will provide hooking cover for captain Dylan Hartley after Jamie George was ruled out for around two months by a ruptured biceps tendon sustained training.

Brookes, who has made a full recovery from a knee injury, has edged out Paul Hill as the replacement tighthead prop and Launchbury's return from a hamstring problem displaces Courtney Lawes on the bench.

"We've picked our best 23 to get the job done on Saturday. The squad have prepared well this week and I'm happy with how things have progressed," Jones said.

"It was a tight call between Kieran Brookes and Paul Hill, who have pushed each other hard, but Kieran gets the nod for Saturday.

"It is a shame that Jamie George misses out through injury and we wish him well in his recovery, but it provides a great opportunity for Luke Cowan-Dickie to show what he's about.

"There is a huge amount to play for on Saturday and we are looking forward to being back at home in front of a vocal Twickenham crowd."

Tuilagi has taken the place of Alex Goode and his presence is a source of genuine excitement having won the last of his 25 England caps on the 2014 tour to New Zealand.

A complex groin injury robbed him of 15 months of his playing career and he finally made his return for Leicester in January before a minor hamstring strain interrupted a comeback that totals six club matches.

Jones, who views Tuilagi exclusively as an inside centre, has stated that the British and Irish Lion currently has 20 minutes of Test rugby in him, identifying him as an impact replacement against Wales.

England have sorely missed their midfield wrecking ball and most imposing threequarter, who feared his career might have been over amid three aborted comebacks during a torrid recovery from his groin issue.

The low point of his rehabilitation came in April last year when he was charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer, assault by beating and causing criminal damage.

At the following month's court hearing he pleaded guilty and was fined £6,205.

Jones' predecessor as England head coach Stuart Lancaster subsequently suspended him from international selection until January, although Tuilagi later claimed the Cumbrian already knew he would miss the World Cup due to his injury.

Press Association

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