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Manu Tuilagi in high spirits as Leicester's season hots up

Published 03/04/2016

Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi played a key role in the Tigers' Aviva Premiership victory over Gloucester
Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi played a key role in the Tigers' Aviva Premiership victory over Gloucester

Manu Tuilagi says he is "enjoying every single minute" as Leicester move into the domestic and European season's business end and the powerhouse centre continues his return towards maximum output.

Tuilagi played a pivotal role during Tigers' thrilling 35-30 Aviva Premiership victory over Gloucester at Welford Road, scoring two tries and creating another, with a five-point maximum keeping Leicester firmly in the title play-off mix.

The campaign is about to crank up a gear though with Leicester hosting European Champions Cup quarter-final opponents Stade Francais next Sunday, followed by a crunch east midlands derby against Northampton six days later, then a possible Champions Cup semi-final clash against either holders Toulon or powerful Parisians Racing 92.

Once Leicester's season is finished, Tuilagi then looks set to be part of Eddie Jones' England squad for a June tour of Australia, where 2015 World Cup runners-up the Wallabies await on successive weekends in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

And the 24-year-old, who only returned to action in January following 15 months on the sidelines while he recovered from a serious groin injury, looks ready for the full-on schedule that awaits him.

"I am doing all right," he said. "I am still on the pitch - that is the main thing!

"I am just enjoying it, I am enjoying every single minute of it. I've been out of the game, and when you are fit and well, sometimes you take it for granted.

"For me, I am enjoying training every day because it is an opportunity to get better. To have the opportunity on the weekend to put it on the playing field is great. I have still got a little bit to go."

Tuilagi returned to the international arena as a second-half substitute in what turned out to be England's RBS 6 Nations title-clinching victory against Wales last month, and he has been impressed by Jones' impact.

"Eddie is a great coach," Tuilagi added.

"He has been around for a long time, he is very experienced.

"I think the main thing is that he knows exactly what he wants from us. He tells us 'this is how I want you to play as a team'.

"Our game-plan is very simple. Play on top of them, don't let the defence recover, play quick.

"We had a quick meeting last week (Tuilagi, Jones and Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill), with Eddie saying what he wants from me moving on back with Leicester. He just said, train hard, play well and everything will look after itself."

And midfield destroyer Tuilagi has no issues whether he fills an outside centre or inside centre role.

"At the start, I always liked playing 13, and when Eddie wanted me to play 12 I was like 'aaarrgh' - but it is just a number," he said.

"Even at set-pieces you can change around, depending on what move you are playing and who is on the field with you. I am really enjoying it. Twelve or 13, I am just happy to be on the pitch."

Reflecting on the Gloucester win, which Leicester achieved the hard away after trailing by 17 points approaching half-time, Tuilagi added: "We started really well, but let them off the hook. It was all us, it was our mistakes.

"But it was an easy fix, and we came back in the second half. Fair play to the boys, we dug in and got the win, which is the most important thing. And we got a bonus point as well.

"In that first 20 minutes we showed what we can do from anywhere on the pitch. We need to focus on every minute of the game, we can't drop off.

"It was difficult out there, but we stuck to what we know and what he had been doing in training all week, and that showed in the end."

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