Wilkinson: Tuilagi is the future
Jonny Wilkinson hailed Manu Tuilagi as the future of English rugby after the Leicester powerhouse was awarded his Test debut in Saturday's World Cup warm-up international against Wales.
Wilkinson had some idea what to expect when he linked up with Tuilagi in the England camp, having played against his four elder brothers, but what he discovered was a player who marries that bone-crunching Samoan power with the dazzling match-winning qualities of England legend Jason Robinson and current New Zealand star Sonny-Bill Williams.
He said: "Manu has that aura about him, that Jason Robinson uniqueness about his ability to impact on a game, when someone has that ability as an individual to change a game you know he has to be special. I saw it a bit in Toulon with Sonny-Bill Williams."
He continued: "He has the power, the speed and he reads the game incredibly well. His focus is very sharp, he doesn't drop off.
"You'd think he's all about running over people but he has got the footwork and the passing skills and he can kick a ball pretty well.
"You have to sit back and acknowledge that you are seeing the future of the game right here, with this breed of youngster coming through."
Wilkinson always chooses his words carefully, often shying away from making bold statements, so for him to make such a claim carries a great deal of weight.
England manager Martin Johnson has now selected 12 different centres for his 31 Tests in charge - but none of them have carried that same high-octane potential as Tuilagi.
"Manu is an explosive player. He likes to come out of the line and hit people and he can carry the ball very powerfully," said Johnson.
"He is not just a power runner. He has good skills and good rugby awareness. He is an exciting 20-year-old. He has all the talents to develop into a top player."