Manu Tuilagi believes Sale will get the best out of him after years of injury problems at Leicester, having been backed to make the same impact at the Sharks as the England World Cup winner Jason Robinson.
Tuilagi revealed he consulted the England head coach, Eddie Jones, over joining Sale and, having averaged fewer than 10 matches a season in his last six years with Leicester, said the prospect of an extended run of games at Sale was key to his decision.
“We had a meeting and he [Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby] said about how he looks after and manages the players,” he said. “Especially for me, I have had a lot of injuries in the past, I am excited to play regularly.”
Diamond has accepted he will lose Tuilagi for large chunks of the next 12 months because of his England commitments in a cluttered calendar, but still believes the 29-year-old, signed on a cut-price deal, can spearhead a title pursuit.
Robinson played a key role in Sale’s only previous Premiership title win, in 2006, six years after switching codes from rugby league, and Diamond sees similarities with his new signing. He said: “I remember being involved 20 years ago when Jason Robinson signed from Wigan and everyone telling us what he should do, what he shouldn’t do. Me and Jim Mallinder said to him: ‘Just do what you do playing rugby league and you’ll be a sensation.’ And he was. [It’s a ] similar mentality with Manu.”
As a senior England player, Tuilagi is set for a brutal 12 months when the season restarts on 14 August but Diamond is convinced he can round off his current deal at Sale with a place on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa next season. “I don’t know what Leicester did and I don’t ask too many questions, because it’s all about what we are doing here,” he added. “The key is getting Manu into 15-16 games for Sale. He hasn’t managed to do that over the years. Initially it’s: ‘How do we get this lad playing for us on a regular basis, playing for England on a regular basis’, and the big light at the [end of the] tunnel is a Lions tour in 12 months’ time.”
While Tuilagi refused a 25% pay cut, prompting his Leicester departure, his England teammate George Ford accepted reduced terms at Welford Road. Ford acknowledged Tuilagi will be missed at the club but believes his decision to stay in the Premiership is a boost for England. “The type of guy Manu is, I am sure he will play well up there,” said Ford. “It’s positive from an England point of view.”
Tuilagi is in line for his Sale debut against Harlequins in the first match of the Premiership’s restart – the first of nine rounds of the league followed by the play-offs. Clubs are facing seven matches in 28 days but Ford is keeping faith that the authorities will put the necessary measures in place to protect players. “I think it’s something like you can’t play more than 160 minutes in a week,” he added. “It’s up to the guys who are acting on our behalf to sort that out and take it out of the players’ hands. I don’t think anybody will be playing three games in one week.”
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