Rugby

Steve Borthwick urges Manu Tuilagi not to turn his back on England

Tuilagi will make his first appearance of the Guinness Six Nations in what could be his farewell appearance in a Red Rose jersey.

Manu Tuilagi could be playing his final game for England on Saturday
Manu Tuilagi gives a thumbs-up Manu Tuilagi could be playing his final game for England on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Steve Borthwick has urged Manu Tuilagi not to turn his back on England after priming the powerful Sale centre for a cameo role in Saturday’s clash with France in Lyon.

Tuilagi will make his first appearance of the Guinness Six Nations, filling the vacancy on the bench created when Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s concussion-enforced absence resulted in Elliot Daly’s return to the starting XV.

It could be his farewell appearance in a Red Rose jersey as he considers a lucrative move to the Top 14 at the end of the season – when he will be 33 years old – with Montpellier his likely destination.

Tuilagi has been a central figure for four-successive England coaches because of his carrying threat but he could soon be following former team-mates Owen Farrell, Henry Arundell and Joe Marchant across The Channel.

“I’m hopeful Manu will be staying in England. There are no plans confirmed as yet, to my understanding,” Borthwick said.

“Ultimately it’s up to Manu and the opportunities that present themselves. From my point of view, he knows I would want him to be in England – I want all our best players playing in England.”

Tuilagi would have been involved earlier the Six Nations had it not been for a groin problem sustained in mid-December, the latest in a long list of injuries that have made him unavailable for international duty for lengthy spells.

Although in the twilight of his career, Borthwick believes Tuilagi still has plenty to offer England – both on and off the field.

“Manu adds huge amounts to this squad. He’s a player who impacts upon people and he impacts upon games. I’m looking forward to seeing him impact upon this game on Saturday night,” Borthwick said.

“Manu has been training well and has looked sharper and sharper. His training, work ethic and what he delivers on the field are always excellent.

“We’ve got a number of young players in this squad and he takes the time and the care to help them and pass his knowledge on.

“The very best players make everyone else be five per cent or 10 per cent better because of their presence and Manu has that effect.

“He’s socially robust within the group, he’s brilliant at bringing people together. He’s the one at the coffee machine making coffee for everyone to sit, chat and spend time with each other. He brings people together.”

Borthwick has kept faith with George Ford at fly-half despite Marcus Smith’s match-winning contribution off the bench in the 23-22 upset of Ireland last Saturday.

Smith brought extra zip and creativity to England in the latter stages, as well as landing the decisive drop goal, but Ford was also excellent outside of his goalkicking problems and his growing understanding with full-back George Furbank is seen as key.

George Ford is retained at fly-half against Ireland
George Ford is retained at fly-half against Ireland George Ford is retained at fly-half against Ireland (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The prime reason for the decision is that both of them played really well. George played a really good game in many ways and the blend of the two of them is an exciting blend,” Borthwick said.

“We are trying to build that consistency and cohesion. If players haven’t played with each other, you can’t expect them to read each other.

“Having consistency in selection helps this team build and that’s an important step for us.”