Manu Tuilagi backed to be in prime shape for British & Irish Lions’ tour

Manu Tuilagi will be in prime shape to face South Africa if he is selected on Thursday for this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour, according to his club Sale. The England centre is set to return for his side’s final three Premiership games and, potentially, the play-offs and Alex Sanderson, the Sharks’ director of rugby, fully expects the 29-year-old to hit the ground running.

Tuilagi has not played since September but Sanderson says his achilles tendon is now fully healed and that he is due to feature against Bristol on 28 May. “His achilles is fine, we’re just making sure he doesn’t re-injure himself with a soft tissue injury,” said Sanderson. “I don’t want him to be at 80% because he has a history of re-injuring himself.”

Sanderson also insisted it would not be a leap of faith for Warren Gatland to pick Tuilagi despite his recent shortage of rugby. “I am not Warren Gatland, but, yeah, I would [take him] if I was picking the squad. At his best he’s one of the world’s best players. That’s why we wanted to keep him.

“It wasn’t a leap of faith for us to sign him, it was a calculated risk and a good one. I’ve no doubt we’ll get him back to playing his best rugby. He wants to come back and be brilliant again. If I were to back anyone to come back and be at his best, it would be him. If it was just about him coming back, earning a crust and seeing out the last few years, I don’t think he would be here. He would be somewhere else where they would pay him more money and he would have an easier ride.”

Gatland, however, has not spoken directly to Sanderson about the player while another England squad member, Ellis Genge, says he is not on the list of hopefuls who have been approached about their tour availability. “I think my emails are broken,” joked the Leicester prop, who is not anticipating a call-up. “I’m getting my carpets cleaned on Thursday and the TV’s in that room so I won’t be in there. I’ll have my phone with me but, like I said, I haven’t had any emails so I’d assume not.”

Premiership Rugby has confirmed that half of this month’s round 19 league fixtures have been switched to midweek to allow some supporters to attend. The games at Bath, Wasps and Leicester on 14 and 15 May, however, will go ahead behind closed doors.