Smith: Tuilagi was RWC certainty
September 4, 2011
Tuilagi has marked his first two appearances for England with tries in each Test © Getty Images
Manu Tuilagi's rapid rise has come as no surprise to the England back-room staff who etched him into their World Cup plans even before he had played a Test match.
The Leicester centre only broke into the Tigers first team at the start of last season, but he trained with England during the Six Nations. Tuilagi's pace and power caused such a stir that Martin Johnson had inked his name into England's World Cup plans before his debut in the warm-up international win against Wales at Twickenham.
The 20-year-old juggernaut justified that faith by scoring two tries in his first two Tests - and the red rose camp are now predicting he could become as good as New Zealand's revered centre Ma'a Nonu. "Manu has been on the radar for a while," said attack coach Brian Smith, as England moved from Auckland to Dunedin to begin preparations for their opening World Cup game against Argentina on Saturday. "If we see a player we think is going to be an England player we bring them into the training camp.
"We can then see what he is like shoulder-to-shoulder with our current squad - and from what we had seen of Manu, he had the goods. It was nice to have that confirmed in his first two performances."
Tuilagi made a try-scoring debut in England's World Cup warm-up victory over Wales at Twickenham, his only appearance before Johnson named his final 30-man squad. Last Saturday, Tuilagi made his second Test start against Ireland and scored a scintillating try to confirm his status as one of the potential stars of the World Cup.
"He has only played a couple of games for us and he has done very well, he has scored a couple of tries," added Smith. "He has got lovely hands as well, he is a good offloader. He is an outstanding talent. He is a terrific young bloke to work with.
"It is a little bit too early to be comparing him with (Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams), they have got more runs on the board. But who knows? In a couple of years time we might be talking about him in the same breath as those two."
Tuilagi was identified as a future Test star as he developed through age-group rugby and he was invited to train with England during the Six Nations. Despite having only a handful of first team games for Tigers under his belt, Johnson considered pitching Tuilagi into the England team for their Grand Slam decider against Ireland.
A hamstring strain ended the debate but the fact it was considered at all shows the level of confidence England have in both Tuilagi's ability and temperament. On that occasion Tuilagi would have started in place of the injured Mike Tindall - but when England returned to Dublin last week he lined up alongside the 2003 World Cup-winner.
That partnership now looks certain to be the one England use to face Argentina. "We have got some big centres and Manu certainly fits that role," said Smith. "Manu is such a physical player and he has always been so dominant physically at age-group level, we have had to make sure that he can make good decisions.
"The most important thing is he keeps his feet on the ground and we get a level of consistency out of his performance."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.