Manu Tuilagi: Eddie Jones ready to pick England centre after seven-month lay-off

By Chris JonesBBC Radio 5 live rugby reporter
England's Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi has been out of action for seven months after damaging his knee ligaments

England head coach Eddie Jones says he would be prepared to select Manu Tuilagi as early as the autumn internationals in November.

The Leicester centre, 26, has not played for England since March 2016, and has been out of action since January because of a knee injury.

However, Jones has picked Tuilagi for a three-day pre-season training camp, starting on Saturday.

"If he's fit and ready to go, we'll play him," Jones told BBC Radio 5 live.

"He demolished New Zealand before, and if he's fit and he's got the right desire, then he's always got a chance to get selected for us.

"He's got a number of club games to show us whether he is going to be right or not.

"This camp is about getting players organised mentally for the season, so it's important to have Manu there."

England face Argentina, Australia and Samoa in November.

Jones has also drafted in 18-year-old Harlequins' Marcus Smith, who he believes is the "best young fly-half" in England.

Smith has yet to make his senior debut for Quins, but former Japan coach Jones has been monitoring his progress for a while.

"Back in 2015, Japan had a lot of training camps in Brighton, and I saw him train with his school. He is a guy that stood out," Jones said.

"He was in the development pathway for England, and I've been keeping close tabs on him.

"He's certainly the best young fly-half around, and we need some pressure on those old guys George [Ford] and Owen [Farrell].

"We see enough about him to be the fourth-choice 10 in our squad."

Watson 'stood out' for Lions

Anthony Watson of the British & Irish Lions
Watson made 45 carries in the Lions' tour of New Zealand, gaining 255 metres in the process

Fifteen England players toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in the summer.

"It's a bit like a sliding rule, some players go up and some players go down," said Jones.

"Anthony Watson was the standout. He went there as a borderline starting member, and finished as one of the best wingers on the tour. He took a massive step forward.

"Definitely a few players [didn't perform], but that will be a private conversation."

Jones says those England players who were part of the Lions Test team which drew the series will have a new-found belief and confidence, but has warned against them returning with the wrong attitude.

"If they can't [prove themselves with England], then they won't be in the team, and won't have to worry about an England shirt - they can worry about their [commercial] promotions," Jones said.

"It's all dependent on the attitude of the players. To play for England is a privilege. If they think they are above playing for England, then they don't want to play for England, so it's not something I need to worry about too much."

New Zealand depth 'not what it was'

New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams was shown a red card in the Lions' second Test victory

Jones also believes the Lions tour showed world champions New Zealand lack the strength in depth they once had.

The All Blacks lost the second Test and drew the third, having lost a handful of key players to injury or suspension.

"The depth of New Zealand is definitely not as good as it possibly was," Jones added.

"That is explained by the migration of players to the northern hemisphere at an earlier age.

"In some positions they don't have the depth they possibly did have before, which creates opportunities."

Charles Piutau, Aaron Cruden and Malakai Fekitoa are among those All Blacks to move to Europe in the peak of their careers, curtailing their international prospects.

"It has definitely exacerbated the problem, but the New Zealanders are clever, and I am sure they will identify the problem and fix that pretty quickly," Jones said.

"Tactically there are weaknesses with every team. It's not something we are going to share with the public, but certainly we can see areas we can take New Zealand on with."


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