By Duncan Bech
Manu Tuilagi’s imminent England comeback in time to face New Zealand at Twickenham has had a calming effect on Eddie Jones’ underdogs, according to Ben Youngs.
Tuilagi was due to make his first international appearance in two years in the 12-11 victory over South Africa that opened the Quilter Internationals, only to withdraw from the bench because of a minor groin strain.
But the Leicester centre, whose career has been ravaged by a succession of groin, knee and hamstring injuries, has trained fully this week and is included in a 25-man squad to continue preparations for the headline fixture of the autumn.
Four years ago he scattered the All Blacks with a rampaging display in a famous 38-21 victory at Twickenham and Youngs – his Tigers colleague – is eager for him to make his mark once again.
“I was gutted when he pulled out, but it was a tiny niggle. If it had happened on the Monday he would have probably been all right, but with someone like him, it was not worth risking,” Youngs said.
“It’s great to see him running around in training. I’m really please he’s able to get back out there. He’s looking good.
Tom Curry has been ruled out of the remainder of the autumn series by the ankle injury sustained against South Africa, so his place among the 25 in contention for the All Blacks goes to Sam Underhill.
Jones names his team tomorrow. England have otherwise been given a clean bill of health ahead of Saturday’s visit of New Zealand – the first time the rivals have met in four years.
Courtney Lawes is available having overcome a back problem that forced him to miss the same match so he takes Elliot Stooke’s place among the 25 who will remain at the squad’s Surrey training base.
Some England players may doubt how well known they are to their Kiwi opponents, but Youngs is only too aware of the damage the world champions can cause.
Chris Ashton has revealed that it was clear when speaking to All Black Malakai Fekitoa during his season at Toulon that “he literally didn’t know what the Premiership was. He had no idea”. England are well versed in what to expect, however.
“One thing about the All Blacks is that you are going to have to score tries. We know that,” Youngs said.
“I don’t like the word ‘containing’ because it implies we will go out there and see what they have got.”
Meanwhile Brad Shields came “very close” to New Zealand selection before opting to represent England, according to All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.
Wasps flanker Shields will face the country of his birth in England colours this weekend Shields was born in Masterton to English parents and played for Hurricanes before moving to Wasps.
Foster said the 27-year-old knew how close he was to All Blacks honours when he headed to the northern hemisphere. “I guess the obvious answer, which really is the only answer, is that the selectors didn’t pick him,” said Foster.
“It’s like everything - when you’re selecting a national team, there’s a whole lot of good players that don’t quite make it.
“I’m not going to give you reasons why we didn’t pick him. But what we do know is that he is a quality person, he did a great job off the field in the Hurricanes and he was in the conversation a lot with us.”
Fly-half Beauden Barrett continues to set new standards in ball-in-hand play, but has struggled at times kicking at goal. Foster mounted a staunch defence of Barrett’s all-round abilities, though insisting the 27-year-old can still help New Zealand become the world’s best goal-kickers.
“I don’t see too many articles saying Beauden’s kicked 11 out of 12 in the last three Tests,” said Foster. “If he kicks two out of six at the posts, it’s like a national calamity. But we’re pretty happy.
“We want to be the best goal-kickers in the world, so we’re working hard to do that.
“And if you look at our overall numbers, we’re actually overall pretty good.”