England will cope without Tuilagi
Stuart Lancaster is confident England have the midfield options to cope with the absence of Manu Tuilagi on Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster is confident England have the midfield options to cope with the absence of Manu Tuilagi’s power game for their Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Leicester Tigers centre is making good progress recovering from an ankle strain but will not be able to do multi-directional running - preventing the 21-year-old from taking part in full training - until the end of the week.
After confirming he expects Tuilagi to train at the start of next week and be in contention for the trip to face Ireland in Dublin on February 10, the England head coach said:
“We’ve got lots of options - we could bring JJ [Jonathan Joseph] in, play Billy [Twelvetrees] at 12 or Floody [Toby Flood] can play there - so there are plenty of things to consider.
“But the reality is we’ve got to nail it down over the next 24-48 hours to give the team a fair chance to train together and prepare together to win.
“We recognise the challenge that is coming round the corner with Scotland; the quality of their players, the physicality and size of that challenge. But the focus is on us, with the next two days of training becoming very important.”
Tuilagi was a star performer during the end-of-year internationals, scoring four tries in four games and blitzing the New Zealand defence with two assists and a try during the second half of the record victory.
The outside centre memorably swatted aside Aaron Smith and Dan Carter en route to laying on Chris Ashton’s try and while Lancaster admits his absence is a blow, he says brute force is not the only way to get over the gain line.
“Getting across the gain line is an important part of modern rugby, but there are all sorts of ways to do it,” he said.
“You can go route one, and there are other players in our side who can do that, but equally there are other ways as well.
“Manu being out does change things a bit but as a coaching team and a playing group, we’ve lost players in the past who were deemed irreplaceable but we’ve managed to move on and give other players opportunities. We’ll devise different ways of achieving the same thing."
Lancaster and his coaching team face tough selection calls all over the pitch, with established stars such as fullback Ben Foden and hooker Dylan Hartley pushing for inclusion despite the strong performances of their respective replacements, Alex Goode and Tom Youngs, in the recent series.
Lancaster says there is a balance to strike between rewarding those in possession of the shirt and recalling those with credit in the bank from years of performing at a consistently high level for their country.
A classic example is four-cap Youngs, who debuted at the end of last year, up against 42-cap Hartley, who led the side on his last appearance for England in Port Elizabeth.
“The better strength in depth you have the more you can push players and no one becomes complacent,” added Lancaster.
“I don’t think there is any player sat at the moment that thinks they’ve got the shirt nailed on for the foreseeable future.
“There is never one criteria we select the team on. You wouldn’t say we’ve got to pick the same team we picked against New Zealand.
"What’s happened between then and now is important, how much credit the player has in the bank, what we think they can add to the side, what they can add off the bench.
“The reality is Saturday’s game will be won and lost in the last 20 minutes. It’s going to be tight, as we know games with Scotland have an average of four points over the last four years."