Tuilagi vows to carry on hitting them hard as Johnson and Wilkinson hail youngster as the national team’s future
CONTROVERSIAL England youngster Manu Tuilagi, the man hailed yesterday as the future of the national team, insists he will never lose the urge to “smash people”.
Manager Martin Johnson has offered Tuilagi, 20, the chance to gatecrash his World Cup squad by handing him an international debut in tomorrow’s Test against Wales at Twickenham.
The Leicester centre has already earned a reputation as a tough customer, having been banned for the end of last season for punching Chris Ashton, now an England colleague.
But Samoa-born Tuilagi shows no signs of curbing his aggression, which he attributes to his native country, as he prepares for the biggest match of his fledgling career.
“I consider myself fully English as a rugby player, but that Samoan side to just come out the line and smash people, you never lose it. It’s good fun,” said last year’s Premiership Young Player of the Year.
“I’m really proud to be winning my first cap. There is a lot of competition for places and I just want to take this chance and do the best I can for the team.”
Johnson, who has also recalled long-term absentees Matt Stevens, Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey, called Tuilagi “explosive”.
“He likes to come out of the line and hit people and he can carry the ball very powerfully,” he added.
“He is not just a power runner. He has all the talents to develop into a top player.”
Veteran fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who is also set to start, went as far as to compare Tuilagi with some of the game’s greats.
“Manu has that aura about him, that Jason Robinson uniqueness about his ability to impact on a game,” said Wilkinson.
“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 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.”
ENGLAND TEAM | TO FACE WALES
Starting XV D Armitage (London Irish); M Banahan (Bath Rugby), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), R Flutey (London Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), M Stevens (Saracens), S Shaw (Unattached), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), L Moody (Bath Rugby, capt), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams)
Replacements L Mears (Bath Rugby), D Wilson (Bath Rugby), M Botha (Saracens), T Wood (Northampton Saints), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), C Hodgson (Saracens), C Sharples (Gloucester Rugby)