Belfast Telegraph

Manu Tuilagi determined to grab his chance and have the final word

By Andrew Baldock

England centre Manu Tuilagi is determined to take tomorrow's Test series decider between the British and Irish Lions and Australia in his stride.

The Leicester midfield powerhouse has turned around a tour that could have ended for him through injury less than four weeks ago by claiming a bench spot at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.

And, given the impact he could make, it would be no surprise to see the 22-year-old involved at some stage of what will unquestionably prove a frenzied encounter.

Reflecting on coach Warren Gatland's team announcement, he said: "It's a stressful feeling because you never know if you are in the team or not.

"The coaches give nothing away, and that is to ensure you are in the right mindset for the game. When I heard my name I was over the moon.

"When Brian (O'Driscoll) wasn't named in the team, I thought I was out. It was unbelievable to hear my name.

"There were a lot of players who were disappointed not to be selected, but you put aside your own disappointment because the focus is on the match 23.

"All the boys who haven't been selected have been brilliant."

Tuilagi suffered a shoulder injury during the game against Queensland Reds on June 8, and there were initial fears his tour would end before it had really started.

But he delivered a strong performance in the final midweek game against Melbourne Rebels, and now lands an opportunity to potentially play a part as the Lions look to end a 16-year wait for Test series glory.

"I will play my normal game," he added. "I will try to have an impact from the bench, but I won't put any added pressure on myself.

"Making the Lions squad was an unbelievable feeling in the first place, but to be named in the Test squad is a massive achievement.

"Just to be here is incredible, because I was sure my tour was over after the second game in Australia. Thank God I am still here.

"That's why there is no pressure. It is a rugby match and you can't think too much about it.

"It would be unbelievable to win the Test series, it would be history. The Lions haven't won (a series) in a long time, so we know what is at stake. We knew this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we want to make the most of it."

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