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By Tom Fordyce
Sports author in Tokyo
Of the small green shoots and glowing sparks about England’s predictably comfy progress through the opening two World Cup group matches, Manu Tuilagi’s second attempt against Tonga possibly succeeded at more than every other.
The first was barely shabby, as he twisted and powered and smashed through the lineup.
The second, also, was not only about the dummy run that squeezed in 2 defenders and created time and space for the pass to Jonny May, or the supporting line to have a return pass from his own winger and canter away.
It had been all those things, but it was the smile on the head of Tuilagi as he approached the try-line.
No-one else at the England team and the identical enjoyment as the 28-year-old play. And can really do what he could when healthy and in form.
Tuilagi told BBC 5 Live:”I always liked rugby, because I started enjoying. But I enjoy it more.
”I know now that it is not likely to last forever, that I have to take advantage of it.
”I’m just pleased to be on the market. You know, sometimes you simply take it for granted being able to train and being able to play but for me personally, going out there’s what I enjoy doing.”
For too much of the previous six decades Tuilagi was unlucky with injury but also slow to realise an international rugby player currently must behave.
Since being among those few on-pitch advantages, aged just 20, since England crashed out of the 2011 World Cup, his record of misdemeanours and misfortunes are long and diverse.
They comprise jumping off a ferry to Auckland harbour, making a bunny ears sign supporting then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s mind, punching Chris Ashton, tearing his hamstring, serious problems with both legs, attacking two female police officers and a cab driver, also returning into the England hotel drunk through a pre-season training camp.
England coach Eddie Jones has stuck with him because he has been around long enough to know a present when he sees one. A healthy Tuilagi is unlike any other back in Jones’ armoury, an unholy combination of menace, speed, guile and power.
Two decades back, when all was rosy in England’s garden and he had been in need of him, Jones was being fulsome of a participant few believed could create this World Cup.
”I know he can demolish the All Blacks, so he’s worth time, he’s worth hard work and value a lot of maintenance,” he said .
Now, when England have dipped alarmingly then come back towards real contention for the largest prize in their sport, Tuilagi is much more valuable than ever. Billy Vunipola along with Just Owen Farrell are crucial to the Jones design.
”There were lots of times I believed that I would never play football again,” admits Tuilagi. ”I am very grateful to be here.
”Eddie always kept in touch, all the time that I had been injured. He had been good. It was fine to have that – to provide a bit of help, a little bit of light in the end of the tunnel. I’m thankful to Eddie for that.
”He’s 100% receiving the best out of me. He knows how to receive his players get them in the perfect frame of mind to handle his players every match.
”He has been in the sport in the top level for 20 or more years, and that I think that experience helps him. His training is straightforward and extremely apparent.
”With each player it’s pretty straightforward. He will come around you and say a couple of things to choose for when you are getting ready for a game.
”In mind you know exactly what you would like to do when you get out there, and it helps us hugely”
Jones’ defence coach John Mitchell has worked with explosive, strong runners notably All Blacks legend Mils Muliaina in the 2003 World Cup, and gave two-time world champion Ma’a Nonu his international debut on the months leading up to that tournament.
Back in Tuilagi he sees that a man who has transformed in adulthood, a player as comfy at inside center – in which he’s played for England in this year’s Six Nations – as in outside center, where he’s so far been pushed inside this tournament as Jones has gone to its George Ford-Farrell axis at 10 and 12.
Mitchell says:”Manu understands that both roles are different defensive and attacking decision-making facets.
”When he plays 12, he’s closer to the assault and in 13 he has to have a bit more speed and actually run on the ball, and it’s a little more one-on-one as opposed to two-on-two as a 12.
”Defensively he’s the ability when at 13 to spook the attacker. He does get a hit , but he could certainly feed strike through good 25, when he can contact you. He’s also very comfortable in space as well.
”He goes on his footy at a really quiet way. He’s a’doer’ than a talker.
”He likes one-on-one discussions, and he is a great thinker on the game – if you go and have a dialog about a circumstance, he’s really coachable.
”Together with the Manu we see today, the direction is clear . He’s being managed specifically, so that I presume he gains a whole great deal of confidence from that, with the constraints that were prior he needed from those injuries.
”He is also thankful and respectful he’s at this tournament.
”You never know whether you’re going to get an opportunity with this world stage , so there’s a real sense of unfinished business in his eyes.”
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