‘Steely’ Tuilagi is the ul­ti­mate pro, says Di­a­mond

Sale’s new sign­ing set to face Har­lequins in opener tonight Di­rec­tor of rugby tips Eng­land cen­tre to clinch Lions tour spot

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Rugby Union By Char­lie Mor­gan

Steve Di­a­mond has hailed Manu Tuilagi as an “ul­ti­mate pro”, promis­ing that the Eng­land cen­tre will help Sale Sharks “run over peo­ple” as they bid for Pre­mier­ship suc­cess.

Tuilagi, se­lected to start against

Har­lequins tonight, ar­rived at Sale from Le­ices­ter Tigers in mid-July and has “pleas­antly sur­prised” Di­a­mond with his “stee­li­ness”.

“His de­meanour is ex­cel­lent,” said Sale’s di­rec­tor of rugby. “He hasn’t needed the team man­ager to find him a house, a car – he does that all him­self.

“He is a switched-on lad and I didn’t re­alise what I was get­ting, so I have been pleas­antly sur­prised.

“I thought he might have needed a bit more help, but he has been seam­less. He has been a big con­trib­u­tor, talk­ing in meet­ings and say­ing what could be bet­ter.

“He has a lot of knowl­edge and has played with some great play­ers – there are few bet­ter fly-halves than [Ge­orge] Ford. He has brought that knowl­edge from Le­ices­ter, which we will use.”

Af­ter jok­ing that Tuilagi would not be al­lowed out with Sale wing Denny Solomona – the pair were dis­missed from a 2017 Eng­land camp due to a latenight mis­de­meanour – Di­a­mond com­pared Tuilagi’s im­pact at Sharks to that of Ja­son Robin­son in the early 2000s.

He also dis­closed that 29-year-old Tuilagi, who made his Eng­land de­but in 2011, had been “er­ror-free” in train­ing ses­sions.

Fol­low­ing a pay dis­pute at Welford Road, Tuilagi signed a cut­price deal with Sale un­til the end of the 2020-21 cam­paign.

He hopes to keep alive his chances of tour­ing South Africa with the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions next sum­mer, but the longer term has al­ready been con­sid­ered.

“He will be avail­able for us next year, I reckon, for about 13 to 14 games,” Di­a­mond added. “And if we get him play­ing 14 games, then he has made the right de­ci­sion leav­ing Le­ices­ter and I have made the right de­ci­sion bring­ing him in. “If he does that, he’ll go on the Lions tour … and then we’ll re-sign him for an­other three years. The ball is 100 per cent in his court and he will de­liver.”

An­other sub­plot at the Twick­en­ham Stoop will be Chris Ash­ton’s de­but for Har­lequins, some five months af­ter he left Sale abruptly in March. Di­a­mond has been wary of the wing’s abil­ity to make an “in­stant im­pact” and called Ash­ton “a fan­tas­tic player”.

But he seemed con­tent with his cur­rent squad. The ac­qui­si­tion of Sam Hill from Exeter Chiefs means that, even with Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg and Sam James un­avail­able, Sale have been able to pick a very mus­cu­lar mid­field.

As Di­a­mond said: “You would not want to be a No10 play­ing against us.

“We’ll play a bit but, equally, we’ve got enough about us not to panic and have a bit of pa­tience and know that not many games are won in the first 10 or 15 min­utes.

“What Manu, Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg, Sam Hill and Sam James bring in the cen­tres is a com­bi­na­tion of power and skill.

“We’re go­ing to run over peo­ple. The ba­sis of our game is mo­men­tum. Peo­ple like Manu give you mo­men­tum.”

Mak­ing a mark: Manu Tuilagi has set­tled well at Sale

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