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The sight of Manu Tuilagi wreaking havoc on the Ireland defence on Saturday was one to behold, yet brought with it a tinge of regret over what rugby union has missed out on.
Tuilagi finished one of England’s eight tries in the 57-15 dismantling of the Irish, claimed the man of the match award and caused so many problems for the defence that they could not afford to leave him one-on-one, giving the England back-three to freedom of Twickenham to make the most of.
Along with partner-in-crime Joe Cokanasiga, England sent a barrage of power-ball carriers down the throat of the 10-12 channel, causing the defensive line to constrict repeatedly and give Jonny May and friends the space needed to then stretch the game. It is a tactic that if executed well will almost certainly result in success, and has been utilised by New Zealand and South Africa since the dawn of time.
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For England, it is a much more unfamiliar game plan, but one that has been brought into play by Eddie Jones only once he got his hands on Tuilagi. The England head coach attempted to do the same with Ben Te’o, but there is no player quite like Tuilagi, and Te’o has since been jettisoned into international exile in the south of France.
So why are we now, at 28 years old, seeing the best of Tuilagi? Because he is fit – and not just injury-fit – but fitter than he has been for a very long time, possibly ever in his career.
“We’re massively fitter,” Jones said after getting to grips with his squad over the last three months, the longest he has had with his players since taking charge. “I think you can see that, we’
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