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Manu Tuilagi to make England return against Wales

Published 08/03/2016

Manu Tuilagi has been included in England's matchday squad against Wales
Manu Tuilagi has been included in England's matchday squad against Wales

Manu Tuilagi has been included in England's matchday squad for their RBS 6 Nations title showdown with Wales.

Tuilagi is set to end his 21-month injury-enforced international exile as a second-half replacement when Warren Gatland's men visit Twickenham on Saturday.

The 24-year-old has been included in the 23 at the expense of Alex Goode with Elliot Daly retained for the penultimate round of the Six Nations.

Tuilagi is likely to be joined on the bench by Kieran Brookes, who makes his first appearance of the Six Nations in England's matchday 23 at the expense of Northampton team-mate Paul Hill.

A 24th player has been retained at the squad's Surrey training base with Luke Cowan-Dickie acting as injury cover for hooker Jamie George.

"Jamie George sustained an injury to his arm during training so Luke Cowan-Dickie remains with the squad as cover while Jamie undergoes further medical assessments," head coach Eddie Jones said.

Tuilagi won the last of his 26 caps on the 2014 summer tour to New Zealand before a serious groin problem struck to rob him of 15 months of his career.

Having recovered from the injury in January, he then suffered a hamstring strain that interrupted a comeback that numbers six club matches, with the latest Leicester's Aviva Premiership victory over Exeter on Sunday.

The British and Irish Lions centre needed to come through that game unscathed and having proved his fitness, is poised to make his long-awaited return to the international arena.

Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists he is "five or six games away from being fully fit to play 80 minutes of Test rugby" and also has misgivings over his suitability for a role as a replacement given the length of time he has been out.

"Even if you put him on the bench to be an impact player for the last half an hour, what happens if you have to put him on after five minutes?'' Cockerill said.

Jones, however, has already stated that Tuilagi is capable of playing 20 minutes and intends unleashing him in the final quarter against Wales as England seek to take another step towards a first Grand Slam since 2003.

The inclusion of Daly, who Jones says covers both centre positions and full-back, means Tuilagi would not be forced into action if there an early loss to the first-choice midfield pairing of Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph.

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

Jones views Tuilagi exclusively as an inside centre and believes he can become England's version of New Zealand great Ma'a Nonu.

England squad:

Forwards (14): K Brookes (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), J Clifford (Harlequins), J George (Saracens), D Hartley (Northampton Saints, capt), J Haskell (Wasps), M Itoje (Saracens), G Kruis (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), J Marler (Harlequins), C Robshaw (Harlequins), B Vunipola (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens).

Backs (10): M Brown (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), E Daly (Wasps), O Farrell (Saracens), G Ford (Bath Rugby), J Joseph (Bath Rugby), J Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), A Watson (Bath Rugby), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

England flanker James Haskell insists that even when short of top form, Tuilagi remains a formidable player.

"Manu is a pretty special player. I don't often look at people and think, 'I wish I had some of his genes'. He is pace, power and strength personified," Haskell said.

"He will have an impact, he always does. He's so devastating. I've played with him against some of the best teams in the world and he causes everybody trouble. He is a threat and a very special player. He's deadly.

"Even if he has a bad day, someone will still get taken down or he'll run through someone. Very few players have the ability to do that

"He was obviously sorely missed at the World Cup. Whenever he is not involved in the game, he is missed."

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