Manu Tuilagi believes England could yet make an impact at the Rugby World Cup this year despite their latest lowly Six Nations finish. Steve Borthwick’s side trailed home in fourth place with just two wins against Italy and Wales but Tuilagi insists they can bounce back and cause problems for all their autumn opponents.
The Sale Sharks centre, who enjoyed a forceful return to Test rugby against Ireland in Dublin, is convinced England will be more competitive in six months’ time after their spirited effort with only 14 men on Saturday. “It just showed if we get our game plan right and get our house in order we can beat anyone,” Tuilagi said.
“That is what we talked about last week. For us, if we get our stuff right, we can be in contention with any team. I am disappointed we didn’t get the wins we wanted in this Six Nations but I know it is good for us. When tough times happen you have got no choice but to learn and be better.”
Footage has since emerged of Ireland’s players singing Swing Low in celebration of their grand slam-clinching 29-16 victory but Tuilagi thinks England’s pre-tournament camp this summer will give the squad a chance to refocus their energy and build on their more encouraging display against Ireland.
“We said that no matter the outcome in Dublin we wanted to show each other how much it means for us to play for England and I think we did that,” said Tuilagi, admitting a response had been needed after the record 53-10 home defeat against France.
“When you lose like that it hurts but you have a choice. It can make you better and stronger or you just pack your bags and go home. The boys stood up and took it head on, which is what you want. That is the choice we made.”
New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup-winning head coach, Steve Hansen, has also suggested England should not be written off despite their sub-par Six Nations campaign. “England are still England; they can still pop up and they’ve got plenty of talent,” Hansen said.
“Early in the game against Ireland they played well, and if they take that sort of form into the World Cup, they’ll be a hard team to beat. It’s an interesting time. The two coaches who got sacked from England and Wales [Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac] will be looking back thinking, ‘Well, there you go. It wasn’t just the coaches, was it?’”
Hansen has also questioned whether the extra pressure that comes with being the world’s No 1-ranked side might cause Ireland to choke when the tournament kicks off in September. Hansen, who will be coaching the World XV against the Barbarians at Twickenham on 28 May, said: “It’s a tough tournament to win and they were No 1 going into the last one, weren’t they?
“So they’ve seemed to struggle a little bit at World Cups. If it was the All Blacks, they’d probably be called ‘chokers’. But they’ve come a long way, they believe in themselves and they’re a very good side so they’re definitely a contender. But they’ll have to overcome the pressure of not having gone past the quarter-finals before and there’ll be a lot of pressure involved in that.”
Three of Ireland’s title-winning side, meanwhile, have made the shortlist for the Six Nations player of the year award. Caelan Doris, Hugo Keenan and Mack Hansen are joined on the list of nominees by Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud and Antoine Dupont, who won the award last season. The winner will be decided via an online fan vote which closes at 6pm on Wednesday.