Manu Tuilagi set for swansong and Marcus Smith on bench as England name team to face France

Manu Tuilagi set for swansong and Marcus Smith on bench as England name team to face France

Manu Tuilagi is in line for a potential England swansong in Saturday’s Six Nations finale against France.

The 32-year-old is expected to move from Sale to France in the summer, with Bayonne and Montpellier battling it out for his signature.

England’s policy of refusing to select overseas-based players means that Tuilagi’s Test career will stall if he heads to France - and there would only be a slim chance of him returning to the Test arena even if he were to come back to the Gallagher Premiership.

The Samoa-born centre missed the start of the Six Nations through a groin complaint but has battled back to full fitness, and is primed to win his 60th England cap off the bench in Lyon.

Elliot Daly has replaced the injured Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, with the Exeter wing out through concussion after starring in last weekend’s stunning 23-22 win over Ireland.

George Ford has retained his starting berth at fly-half as England hunt a Six Nations return of four wins for the first time since 2020.

Tuilagi has slipped down England’s pecking order due to both the stellar form of Ollie Lawrence and the toll of a relentless injury profile that has robbed the potent midfielder of his very best in recent times.

The former Leicester star almost ended his career in its relative infancy when hiding a torn pubis in 2014, which led to years of groin trouble. Sale revamped his entire training regimen to hand him a new lease of life in the last two years, and he was able to deliver several impressive showings at the autumn’s World Cup until suffering a broken hand.

England boss Steve Borthwick has a general policy of not selecting players who are heading towards a move overseas, with the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola surplus to selection for that very reason. But an exception has been made for Tuilagi, and should he come off the bench against France it could easily prove to be his farewell appearance.

Tuilagi made his England debut in a World Cup warm-up match against Wales in 2011, aged 20, adding another layer of intrigue to his family’s storied rugby dynasty. Had Tuilagi played every England Test possible since his debut, including last weekend’s 23-22 win over Ireland, he would now boast a whopping 156 caps.

As much as England will celebrate a career of stunning power, pace and aggression, anyone of a Red Rose persuasion will also be left to wonder what might have been had Tuilagi managed to avoid such debilitating injuries.

Still, a World Cup final appearance in 2016, a Lions tour victory in 2013, two Six Nations wins – including the 2016 Grand Slam – and two Premiership titles represents a return to generate real pride.

England team to face France: G Furbank; T Freeman, H Slade, O Lawrence, E Daly; G Ford, A Mitchell; E Genge, J George (capt), D Cole; M Itoje, G Martin; O Chessum, S Underhill, B Earl.

Replacements: T Dan, J Marler, W Stuart, E Roots, A Dombrandt, D Care, M Smith, M Tuilagi.