‘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
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