Tuilagi performance in Europe a reminder of why Sale - and England - should want Manu to stay

Sale fans will hope to see Tuilagi back in action for their next Premiership game against Saracens
©GettyImages for SaleSharks

Manu Tuilagi produced a spectacular performance in Sale Sharks’ recent clash against Stade Français, thrusting his team towards a crucial victory in the Champions Cup. 

Last Sunday, on his return from the hand fracture he suffered during the World Cup, the England centre made a resounding impact both in attack and defence. His physicality, quick footwork, and expert timing presented the French visitors with significant challenges throughout the match.

Tuilagi demonstrated his exceptional ball-carrying abilities, breaching the defensive line multiple times. His powerful bursts and bone-crunching handoffs left the opposition scrambling to contain him, and it was a display which earned the British and Irish Lion a ‘decent’ bottle of Malbec according to Sale Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson.

The Sharks boss, first and foremost, will be desperate to keep Tuilagi fit but his performance last weekend emphasised exactly why Sanderson wants one of Sale’s key players to stay at the club.

And with some of England's stars such as Henry Arundell and Lewis Ludlam confirming their respective futures away from the Premiership, keeping Tuilagi in Manchester would also benefit Steve Borthwick and the national side.

"Manu was sensational today and just seemed to get more physical the more hits that he took,” Sanderson said after Tuilagi’s first club appearance of the season.

"He just carried consistently hard all day, so Manu is back, which I think all of us collectively are very happy about.

"He looked so fit and energetic and didn’t want to come off. That’s a really good sign for Manu and the club because he’s probably got another couple of years left in him. He’s playing his best stuff and is as robust as he’s ever been.

"It’s not entirely down to me [whether Tuilagi signs a new deal at Sale]. We have a selection syndicate and someone who holds the purse strings, plus a cap to fit him into.

"I’d imagine Manu would like to get his life sorted. We would want to get our planning done before the February break. Negotiations take weeks but they would start before then and we would get them all signed off before the Six Nations."

Back to last Sunday where Tuilagi’s intelligent offloading and support play contributed significantly to Sale Sharks’ attacking strategies.

And defensively, he was also impressive. His thunderous tackles and aggressive line speed disrupted Stade Français’ attacking rhythm and thwarted their progress.

His ability to close down space limited the opposition’s options, neutralising their attacking threat effectively, and even though Tuilagi is being rested for Sale’s visit to Leinster this weekend, these attributes will be key if the Sharks are to depart the Irish capital with some positives.

Sanderson added: “You can’t go there meekly and sit back on your haunches because they will run through you. We’ve got to go there and attack them."

Sale’s 28-5 victory last week has given them a platform to build on in their lethal Champions Cup pool but their failure to secure a bonus point may prove costly as they prepare for their trip to Dublin before battles against the Stormers and La Rochelle after Christmas.

Facing the four-time European champions on Saturday evening will be a tough task for the Gallagher Premiership league leaders but Sanderson - who has selected a rotated side for their Pool 4 meeting - would have devised a game plan to counter Leinster’s renowned attacking prowess.

Going into a shade more detail, they will likely focus on maintaining a disciplined defensive structure while exploiting opportunities to launch swift counter-attacks with Raffi Quirke, Arron Reed and Tom Roebuck in their arsenal.

Sharks’ forwards, as difficult as it might be, will try and look to dominate in the set-piece and disrupt Leinster’s possession, while their dynamic backline - which also includes Telusa Veainu, Connor Doherty, Sam Bedlow and Rob Du Preez - will aim to exploit any defensive lapses.

Leinster, on the other hand, will seek to assert their authority on the game by utilising their deep pool of talent and experience across all positions, with the United Rugby Championship table-toppers naming a full-loaded side for Saturday's clash.

Their accurate passing, intelligent offloading, and skilful support play could put immense pressure on Sale’s defensive line and create gaps for the likes of Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour and Jamison Gibson-Park to take advantage of.

With both teams starting the season strongly, rugby fans should be in for an entertaining game as these European powerhouses lock horns and despite Tuilagi not being involved at the RDS, there is no doubt that last weekend was a reminder of just how big of an asset he will be if the Sharks are to challenge on all fronts this season.

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