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Manu mountain: Tuilagi is trouble for Wallabies

Date

Paul Cully

1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales) Click for more photos

British and Irish Lions Team of the Week - Round 3

Paul Cully selects his Lions team based on performances in the third round of the Six Nations. Photo: AP

If the Wallabies did not know it already, they do now. There are 112 kilograms of Samoan trouble coming their way this year in the unmistakeable form of Manu Tuilagi. England’s giant midfielder has the potential to be the principal actor on the British and Irish Lions stage.

England’s victory against France at Twickenham at the weekend came cloaked in controversy. Do not let it fool you. Although the French had the game’s most talented player, Wesley Fofana, England were fitter, deeper in quality on the bench and clearer in game plan as the encounter progressed.

Nor should the nature of Tuilagi’s 55th-minute try – illegal from the second Tom Wood inadvertently kicked the ball forward into replacement prop Mako Vunipola – detract from the soft hands and frightening acceleration Tuilagi showed. That ball dropped at his bootlaces, and in an instant he had scooped it up in his large paws and set off, turning France winger Vincent Clerc into a spectator in the dash for the line. The veteran Clerc does not have the pace of old, but he did not even get close.

Raw power ... Manu Tuilagi.

Raw power ... Manu Tuilagi. Photo: AFP

Anxious Wallabies fans will note the physical similarities between Tuilagi and All Blacks tormentor Ma’a Nonu, and carry those worries into fretful sleep. Nonu has been a constant nightmare – more so than Dan Carter, some might say – in the sustained period of All Blacks dominance, and Tuilagi brings a similar fervour into contact situations. At his most dangerous, he receives the ball two wide of first receiver and then heads back against the traffic to search for frailties between the No.10 and No.12.

James O’Connor was brave in his halting of Clyde Rathbone  on Friday night, but if the Wallabies five-eighth jersey is his goal this year, he will need more of that. The velocity generated by Tuilagi puts the returning Brumby in the shade.

At this stage in the Six Nations, three games in, it is worth asking whether Lions coach Warren Gatland is learning anything significant he did not already know about the candidates for his squad. The weather (see the heavy rain in Rome) and the scrappiness of these affairs (see Ireland’s charitable donation to Scotland’s win column) can make it difficult to come away with solid conclusions about what might work in Australia.

Still, he will welcome the return to form of some of those familiar to him, none more so than Welsh props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins. Jones’s job on the Italians looked even more relevant after Dan Cole struggled against the French. The squat Thomas Domingo got underneath the English tighthead at scrum time, as Benn Robinson did late last year. Cole’s work around the park might not be enough to nail down that starting berth in the No.3.

Indeed, there were a number of others who looked to have regressed in the pecking order. England hooker Dylan Hartley was notably eclipsed by his replacement Tom Youngs, while lineout woes returned to haunt Ireland’s Rory Best. Rob Kearney is spluttering rather than purring in the green No.15 jersey, while a frustrated Sean O’Brien’s ill-disciplined performance at openside contrasted with the solid work of Chris Robshaw.

There are nagging doubts about Robshaw’s pace – when French No.8 Louis Picamoles made a break in the 65th minute, the nature of Robshaw’s pursuit is best described as trundling – but he is one of those players who walks off every week with an empty tank: little wonder he is admired.

England play Italy next but the championship, and much besides, will probably not be decided until their final game, in Wales. Now might be the time for a quiet word from  Gatland to Wales coach Robert Howley. Put Sam Warburton back in the No.7 and let he and Robshaw sort this openside selection out, and to the winner the Lions’ spoils.

British and Irish Lions team of the week:

1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
2. Tom Youngs (England)
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)
5. Jim Hamilton (Scotland)
6. Tom Wood (England)
7. Chris Robshaw (England)
8. Toby Faletau (Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)
10. Dan Biggar (Wales)
11. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
12. Brad Barritt (England)
13. Manu Tuilagi (England)
14. Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
15. Alex Goode (England)

33 comments so far

  • Pretty scary aint he Cully...a wrecking-ball with speed, verve and legs that look like he stole them from a Rhino who had his back turned.
    As to the opposition and mid-field containment, I hope it won't be a case of...I think I can hear my Mother calling...definitely...see later guys as I'm off home.

    Also, WELL done Scotland !
    Got no idea how you did it (just as I'm sure the Irish are friggin' non the wiser either) but you won. Again. Truely amazing, therefore congrats to all and especially the coach.

    Commenter
    Machooka
    Location
    inner west sydney
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 5:25PM
    • Always Love to see Scotland win but there's two words that explain why.
      Wayne Barnes

      Commenter
      stojo01
      Location
      Zeadney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 9:14AM
  • Oh dear. And teh u8nwillingness to tackle as shown by the NZ teams on Friday and NSW on Saturday will only make Tuilagi's job that much easier.

    I always look forward to Lions tours of Australia and New Zealand, but on paper we will be inm big trouble.

    Commenter
    Rob
    Location
    Country NSW
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 5:27PM
    • The Lions are touring Australia

      Commenter
      Crusaders.Fan
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 5:42PM
  • Tuilaga is a revelation? Seriously.........the guy is not a newcomer to the squad and been on all nations radar for years now
    As to Rob.......NZ teams not tackling.........what are you smoking? Do you remember lions last disasterous tour of NZ?? Besides losing ALL tests they lot to NZ Maoris and would have lost many more games but NZRU did not allow AB's to play for their provinces.

    Round 3 and already I predict the top6 will be crowded by NZ teams and the odd SA and just maybe an oz team

    Commenter
    heading off
    Location
    Villavicencio, Colombia
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 6:02PM
    • There were quite a few fairly half-hearted tackling attempts on Friday night in the Highlanders-Chiefs game, that'd be what Rob is talking about. Hosea Gear and Kade Poki both strolled through multiple defenders shirking their tacking duties.

      Commenter
      The Claw
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 9:46PM
    • Tim Nanai Williams may be a fantastic attacking footballer but he'll never play for the All Blacks after the fend Poki put on him to score when he was defending at centre.

      Commenter
      stojo01
      Location
      Zeadney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 9:17AM
    • There will be an Australian team as the conference system gaurantees one team in the finals from each country. Same as last year.

      Commenter
      Witters
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 9:17AM
  • Bring it on - if Berrick Barnes can bring down Nonu and SBW then Tapuaia can bring down Tuilaga!

    Commenter
    Leroy
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 7:34PM
    • I'm sure the Wallabies are well aware of Tuilagi as he played in the beaten side at Twickenham a couple of months ago. In that game he scored a try off an overlap but otherwise was basically anonymous. So yeah, cool article bro.

      Commenter
      Max
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 8:48PM

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