England in SA
Tuilagi targets new Bok angst
Frans Steyn and Manu Tuilagi (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - The last time Manu Tuilagi turned out at inside centre against South Africa, Leicester Tigers upset the touring “dirt-trackers” 22-17 at Welford Road in 2009.GALLERY: Springboks v England: Match-ups
In the words of The Guardian, the then-teenager “thumped holes in the Springbok midfield” to play an influential role in the humbling.
Luckless customers opposing him at centre that night were direct rival Wynand Olivier - on the Bok bench for the second Test against England at Coca-Cola Park here on Saturday - and the recently marginalised Juan de Jongh.
This weekend, with the tourists shuffling their side significantly, and uncompromising Tuilagi brought closer to the action at No 12, he goes face to face with the similarly hefty Frans Steyn, and in-form captain Jean de Villiers just outside of him.
“Steyn and De Villiers are outstanding players,” Tuilagi, 21, acknowledged at a media briefing on Thursday. “They’re right up there with the best in the world ... it will be another big challenge on Saturday.”
The Samoan-born customer, who hails from the Fogapoa village with a population of around 250, does not come across as a man of expansive words, but you could sense some glee when the word “physicality” came up in discussing the Boks.
“Yeah, I like that side of things. You always know the Boks will be extremely confrontational and that didn’t change at all in the first Test.
“Hopefully moving to 12 I’ll get to see more of the ball, but perhaps have to make some more tackles as well.”
With his midfield opponents suitably sturdy as counters to his own 110kg frame, Tuilagi was asked whether England - and clearly by extension he - might try to target flyhalf Morné Steyn as a potential “weak link” in defence.
He was suitably diplomatic. “We’ve focused more on ourselves and what we have to do ... if some of that strategy involves going through the 10 channel, then we will.
“Last week we created some opportunities but didn’t always hold onto to the ball enough. That is something we need to improve.
Asked by Sport24 whether he had prior experience of playing at an altitude of almost 1,800m, Tuilagi said: “No, I’ve not done that before! But I don’t feel any different here in Jo’burg.
“We’ve been training hard this week and running around and I haven’t felt much different. If the thought of altitude is in your head, then you’ll feel it.”
Earlier, England coach Stuart Lancaster said he was “confident in the ability (of Tuilagi) to understand the requirements of the 12 channel” despite his greater modern familiarity with No 13.
Quizzed on what he called the “Ellis Park factor” as a psychological comfort for the home side, Lancaster replied: “We’ve talked about the ground, and what it means to the South African team and public.
“If you were ticking off a list of toughest places across the world to play rugby at, it would feature. But these are the tough environments we need to put ourselves in for our own (development) as a unit.”Teams:
15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger , 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Wynand Olivier, 22 Bjorn BassonEngland:
15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 David Strettle, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
Substitutes: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 Phil Dowson, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Owen Farrell, 22 Alex Goode*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing