Rugby World Cup 2011: Call for Manu Tuilagi to start for England

• Leicester's Richard Cockerill calls for Samoan to be picked
• 'Manu could play 12 if they play him in the right manner'

Richard Cockerill has urged England to pick Manu Tuilagi at inside-centre or on the wing at next month's World Cup if they wish to avoid potential defeat in their opening pool game against Argentina. The young Leicester player is poised to win only his second cap against Ireland this weekend but Cockerill, the Tigers' director of rugby, believes he could already be England's best option at No12.

As things stand the 20-year-old Tuilagi is poised to form a new midfield triangle in Dublin outside Jonny Wilkinson and Mike Tindall when the team is announced . Performing the inside-centre role having played just 20 career games in total for club and country would be a major challenge but Cockerill reckons England have little option but to squeeze their Samoan battering ram into their starting XV if they are to make a serious impact in New Zealand.

"They've got to pick Manu to start, haven't they?" suggested Cockerill, speaking at the 2011-12 Aviva Premiership season launch at Twickenham. "But where do you put him? Do you put him at 12 or not play Tindall? Or do you play Manu on the wing? England have had three years to find a 12 but they're going to a World Cup and they're not really sure.

"Manu could certainly play 12 if they play him in the right manner. He's got that bit of X-factor: he's more physical than anyone else qualified for England and people underestimate his ability to play. He can catch and pass and he understands the game very well. Maybe England will look at him as a 12, perhaps alongside Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, who both know him from Leicester. If they want someone to go forward, he'll go forward and he can distribute pretty well."

Tuilagi's lack of a kicking game might deter Martin Johnson from taking his former Leicester team-mate's advice but Cockerill warns that England, having jettisoned Riki Flutey, need to get their selection spot on against the Pumas in Dunedin on 10 September.

"Argentina, for me, is England's banana skin. Historically they always have a big first game. It's a cup final for them. If they win, they could put themselves in a position to win the group.

"England are based on a power game: a good scrum, a good lineout drive and carrying the ball. But the Argentinians can scrum and they might match England's physicality. Then it's about outplaying them, which we may or may not do, depending on who we pick."

In that respect, Saturday's final warm-up game against the Irish is a crucial occasion. Ireland badly need a win while England must prove their attacking travails in Cardiff were merely a blip. The Irish back row and midfield would love to teach Tuilagi that Test rugby is not simply about brute strength. "You've got to be careful about pinning all your hopes on a 20-year-old who's played 19 games for Leicester and one Test match for England," cautions Cockerill. "Manu won't get done physically – even at training now you don't let Manu do too much tackling because he'll hurt someone – but he might get caught out because he's a young man still learning the game."

The latest injury report from the England camp is that James Haskell has only a mild inflammation of a tendon in his foot and is fit to face the Irish, good news for Johnson given Lewis Moody's continuing absence. The management are confident that Sale's Andrew Sheridan is finally ready to return to the front-row fray after an injury-ruined year.

Saracens, last season's Premiership champions, do not now expect to play any home games at their proposed new base in Barnet until the start of the 2012-13 campaign but remain hopeful of receiving approval to switch their Heineken Cup pool game against Biarritz next January to Cape Town. The matter will be discussed at an ERC board meeting early next month, with permission also required from both the Rugby Football Union and their South African counterparts.

"Biarritz have no objections so we're hoping nothing's going to stand in the way of it happening," said Saracens' director of rugby, Mark McCall.


Robert Kitson

The GuardianTramp

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