Manu Tuilagi eyeing England return for Ireland clash as Steve Borthwick ponders midfield shake-up
Manu Tuilagi will press claims to start England’s face-saving Six Nations trip to Ireland after Ollie Lawrence was ruled out with hamstring trouble.
Sale centre Tuilagi missed Saturday’s 53-10 record home defeat by France through suspension, but spent last week in England’s training camp at their Bagshot base.
The 31-year-old is now free to resume playing and could yet be parachuted into England’s starting XV for the Aviva Stadium clash on Saturday, where Ireland will hunt a second Grand Slam in five years.
Leicester centre Guy Porter has replaced the injured Lawrence in England’s ranks, and will be an immediate selection option for the game. New head coach Steve Borthwick named Porter in his original Six Nations squad, only to lose the Tigers powerhouse to a leg injury.
Borthwick has high hopes for Porter’s Test future, with the 26-year-old boasting just four caps but the Red Rose boss’ high regard. England’s record Twickenham defeat and third-heaviest loss in history has heaped untold pressure on Borthwick’s embryonic tenure.
Lawrence’s injury left No 8 Alex Dombrandt stranded in the centres at the tail-end of Saturday’s horror-show loss with all three backline replacements already in the fray. Former Leicester boss Borthwick will have no choice but to rejig his midfield set-up for this weekend’s Dublin trip with Lawrence missing.
And after Saturday’s dismal effort, Borthwick could easily turn to England’s well-worn midfield trio of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Tuilagi. England have not yet had the opportunity to select that combination under Borthwick due to injuries and suspensions, but Ford is fit and firing again after long-term Achilles trouble.
Sale playmaker Ford will turn 30 on Thursday, and might just receive the ultimate birthday present in the shape of England’s problem No 10 shirt. England’s France defeat proved so abject as to leave hooker Jamie George offering an unreserved apology to supporters.
“I want to apologise because I’m one of the fans really,” said George. “I would be gutted if I’d turned up to Twickenham and seen an England team play like that.
“We are sorry and we must learn from this experience, because it’s clear we have a long way to go. It’s tough to take the fans leaving early and booing, but I can relate to that.
“I’m a fan myself and to hear that is really tough. We haven’t been good enough for the England fans for a while now.
“But what I’d like to say to the supporters is please stick with us because we’re going to fight and we’re going to scrap to make sure we’re a significantly better team going forward. Hopefully we don’t disappoint them like that again.”