Stuart Lancaster has made a bold decision moving Manu Tuilagi to the wing for the make or break second test against New Zealand. Tuilagi played junior rugby out wide, but never for England or Leicester Tigers.
While it is encouraging that Lancaster has the options to be able to name a completely different centre partnership to last week, how will England make sure they get the same impact from Tuilagi on the wing?
Wales have arguably the best strike runner in Europe in George North and England can take inspiration from their neighbours of how best to ensure Tuilagi still gets the ball in his hands.
North often comes off his wing charging through the middle, a tactic that would suit Tuilagi’s raw power.
However where Tuilagi can really make an impact is getting the ball at first receiver.
If England can ensure quick ball, Tuilagi would draw in a number of defenders if he was allowed to run at Aaron Cruden. Furthermore with Billy Twelvetrees playing at inside centre, England have a ball player that can spin the ball wide for Marland Yarde and Mike Brown to exploit.
With ball in hand there is no doubt that Tuilagi can still cause havoc on the wing or in the centre. However it is his defending that may need to be altered. Tuilagi cannot afford to run out of the line looking for a big hit as he often does in the centre. He comes up against the reinstated Julian Savea, who has scored 19 tries for the All Blacks and possesses a hypnotising sidestep to match his raw power.
As rugby union has developed a key aspect of the modern day winger is the kicking game, a skill that Tuilagi is certainly yet to master. It will be vital for Tuilagi to be supported by Mike Brown whenever a ball is kicked, especially under the high box kicks of Aaron Smith, arguably the best kicking scrum half in the game.
Anyone with reserves over Tuilagi starting on the wing must only look back to the Leicester Tigers team of a few years ago. Alessana Tuilagi has an almost identical style to Manu and was used as a focal point of the Leicester attack, something England should aspire to.
Tuilagi made more yards than anyone in the first test, it would be a shame if he wasn’t utilised on the wing to the same devastating effect.
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