New Zealand v England: Stuart Lancaster lifts lid on Manu Tuilagi switch
New Zealand v England: Stuart Lancaster says Manu Tuilagi's switch to wing has been in works for almost a year
Stuart Lancaster admitted Leicester Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi’s switch to the wing has been in the works for almost a year.
With the return of Gloucester Rugby’s Billy Twelvetrees and Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell, Tuilagi will wear England’s No.14 shirt against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday.
Playing Manu on the wing is something we have wanted to look at for a while
Twelvetrees and Burrell clicked during this year’s Six Nations campaign but with the former injured and the latter involved in the Aviva Premiership Final, both missed the first Test at Eden Park last weekend.
Tuilagi was joined by Bath Rugby’s Kyle Eastmond in the centres as England lost 20-15 – and Lancaster has shuffled his pack in order to keep the Red Rose in the three-match series.
The 23-year-old has some experience on the wing – for the England Under-20s – and the head coach is hoping the destructive Leicester man will look right at home.
“It was 6-12 months ago that I first thought of it as an option,” Lancaster told The Telegraph.
“I wanted to be certain that Manu was comfortable with it, particularly in defence where we defend with our wings pushed up. He has trained there and the longer it has gone on the more comfortable he has felt.
“Playing Manu on the wing is something we have wanted to look at for a while, we have quality players in the back line and he gives us a different strike option from the wing in terms of start-up plays, kick returns and counter attacks
“He’s gone back to the position he played as a youngster, it’s a step up but he has looked brilliant in training and we’re all looking forward to Saturday’s match.”
Burrell’s selection at outside centre is testament to the way he has settled into life as an England player since making his debut in February.
And with Tuilagi on his shoulder this weekend the 26-year-old expects England’s backline to cause the world champions all sorts of problems.
“He always looks good,” said Burrell. “He’s just that sort of player no matter where you put him he’s going to be a fantastic asset to any team and you see from his club he’s played at 12, he’s played 13, he’s played on the wing before
“He’s just a fantastic attribute to have in the squad and I am thoroughly looking forward to being out on the field with him.”