Lancaster considers his options
February 20, 2012
England boss Stuart Lancaster shares his thoughts with the media ahead of his side's Six Nations date with Wales © Getty Images
England interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has welcomed the selection headache provided by the return to fitness of centre Manu Tuilagi, fly-half Toby Flood and lock Courtney Lawes.
Both Tuilagi and Flood featured in Leicester's 20-19 Aviva Premiership victory over Saracens on Sunday and Lawes also played a full 80 minutes as Northampton overcame Sale 24-17 on Saturday. As a result all three are in contention for this weekend's Six Nations showdown with Wales having missed England's opening two victories over Scotland and Italy.
England's interim boss would not confirm whether any of the trio would start, but he did admit having them available has breathed new life in to his squad. "Having that group of players back has given me something to think about," he said. "From our point of view it's a great position to be in to have competition for places. We go in to this match on the back of two wins and we have had a lot of competition in training."
Tuilagi, who has played just five games since the Rugby World Cup thanks mainly to a shattered eye-socket and a hamstring injury, caught Lancaster's eye in particular. The 20-year-old was recalled to the England squad last week but faces a fight to dislodge Brad Barritt from the XV after he impressed in England's outings in Edinburgh and Rome.
Tuilagi may yet start on Saturday though, as his power could prove vital against a powerful Wales back line, and Lancaster was pleased with his performance in yesterday's narrow win at Vicarage Road. "Manu has had such limited game time since the World Cup so it was a good chance for him to get another 80 minutes under his belt," Lancaster said. "At that level, in that quality of a game, it was just a great opportunity for him to play another game. We were pleased for him and how he played. He did a lot of things well. I am pleased with the way that it went."
Tuilagi will begin full training with England tomorrow after being the day off to recover from yesterday's game, which saw Leicester clinch victory with a last-minute drop goal. He will have two days to impress Lancaster and prove that he is sharp enough to be considered ahead of Barritt for a game that could make or break England's hopes of winning the tournament, and Lancaster's own chances of landing his current job on a permanent basis.
Wales have impressed many with victories over Ireland in Dublin and Scotland in Cardiff, but Lancaster insists his sole focus remains putting out a team strong enough to deny the visitors what would be only their second win at Twickenham since 1988.
"From my point of view it's about us first. What Wales can bring will be something in the back of mind," Lancaster added. "It's a big week. We are certainly pleased with how last week went in terms of the quality and the quantity of what we have managed to do in training. That sets us up well for a big game."
Third-choice hooker Lee Mears is having a scan on his bicep today and could miss the game on Saturday while wing Charlie Sharples is also a doubt after suffering a leg injury. Harlequins' Chris Brooker has been called up as cover for Mears.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures