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Habana backs Tuilagi at number 12

Manu Tuilagi could forge an "impressive" World Cup midfield with George Ford and Jonathan Joseph for England, according to South Africa star Bryan Habana.

Toulon wing Habana believes Leicester wrecking-ball Tuilagi could slot into England's problem position of inside centre once he recovers from long-term groin trouble - just in time for the autumn global battle on home soil.

"The combination of Ford, Joseph and Tuilagi would be impressive," Habana said.

"I think Tuilagi's big injury crisis has been frustrating in terms of his growth and development.

"All the Tuilagi brothers aren't the smallest of animals in the world!

"I think the space that they create because there is so much attention drawn to them... I don't think his distribution skills are that bad, and when you have Joseph running off you then it's a good thing to have.

"Luther Burrell's presence by his size is daunting.

"I think it is just finding that combination. For England it is about that, and when you see those click like they did against France then they had a lot to gain.

"Jonathan Joseph at 13 has shown that his game has improved immensely. He has really grown into that position at Bath and the presence that Luther Burrell brings is good, and Manu Tuilagi is hard to leave out.

"George Ford has really shown his worth at 10 too. The way he has controlled that England game-plan has been impressive. He's probably not one of the biggest guys around, but defensively his ability isn't lacking at all."

England ended the RBS 6 Nations in second place for the fourth consecutive year under head coach Stuart Lancaster - and with midfield selection still in flux.

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill now expects Tuilagi to miss the rest of the season, but be fit in time for England's summer World Cup training camps.

England's Samoa-born 23-year-old centre has been sidelined since October, but will be an immediate contender for Test selection on his return to fitness.

Toulon speedster Habana could yet be fit for his Cote D'Azur club's Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Wasps at Stade Mayol on Sunday.

The 31-year-old 2007 World Cup-winner cites wing Christian Wade as a big threat to Toulon's chances of chasing a third straight European crown.

Habana believes Wade can still challenge for a World Cup spot with England, despite slipping out of boss Lancaster's recent reckoning.

Wade grabbed a hat-trick despite Wasps' 52-30 Aviva Premiership defeat at Northampton on Friday, so will head into Sunday's European last-eight battle brimming with confidence.

"Christian Wade has been playing exceptionally well for Wasps and could put his hand up," Habana said, speaking to launch Land Rover's 'We Deal in Real' campaign.

"There has been a lot of talk about which English wingers will make it. I'm not too sure who they will go with in the World Cup.

"We saw Jonny May score a fantastic try against New Zealand last season, but then he didn't get as many opportunities going into the Six Nations.

"For me the challenge is always going to be the players being at the top of their game come September.

"I think Jonny May quite rightly got nominated as one of the tries of the season last year, and Jack Nowell has been looking fantastically well not only for Exeter but also the last game against France.

"He has a lot of pace and a great skill-set.

"Jack and Jonny have probably got the inside lane at the moment, but if you get guys running off Mike Brown then it will be pretty impressive."

:: Land Rover Ambassador Bryan Habana was speaking at the launch of 'We Deal In Real', Land Rover's Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign that champions people at the heart and soul of the game by putting grassroots clubs on the global stage. www.landrover.com/rugby @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal

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