England head coach Eddie Jones has praised Manu Tuilagi’s dedicated recovery from injury and says he can “demolish New Zealand” after being brought back into his plans to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
26-year-old Tuilagi has played just once for England in the last three years and has been side-lined with a knee injury since January, but the Leicester centre was been selected in England’s three-day pre-season training camp to prepare for the new season and the autumn internationals, even if Jones says he still has work to do before he’s fit enough to be playing again.
“He’s moving in the right direction, but he’s a hell of a long way away from playing Test rugby,” Jones said at Twickenham on Friday. “I’m impressed by his dedication and he’s had a tough time.
“The amount of injuries he’s had will be enough to knock people away but he’s in good physical condition.”
Jones’s preparations are well underway for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and the Australian believes Tuilagi could be the difference between winning and losing against the All Blacks if the two nations remain ranked first and second in World Rugby’s rankings and avoid each other until the final.
“’He was a player that demolished New Zealand and we need those kinds of players,” Jones added. “There are definitely some gaps in New Zealand’s team they didn’t previously have.
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“I think they’ll fix it but it certainly makes them more vulnerable than they were before. At the moment there’s a gap between us and New Zealand, so we’re going in the right direction but we’ve but we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do to get there.”
Jones met Tuilagi in Leicester to discuss his future over a coffee before the Lions tour and revealed the 26-year old is determined to pull on an England shirt again, having only accumulated 26 caps since his Test debut in 2011.
“He’s a laid back boy, you don’t change his personality but I think he loves rugby and he wants to play for England. He loves playing for England and he wants to get back and play for the Tigers so he’s doing everything he can to get ready.
“At this stage we’re happy with his progress and I believe they (Leicester Tigers) are, so everything’s pretty positive.”
Manu Tuilagi has not played since suffering injury in January (Getty)
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