Rugby

Are Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola now a spent force?

When Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola were on form during the Eddie Jones era, England benefited substantially from those two powerful ball carriers driving them to the gain line and tearing down defences.

Having them both on the field at the same time has often been a small victory in itself, but the potential for Tuilagi and Vunipola to create defensive holes, either through power or trickery, has been enticing. That is why, amid many problems for England after an autumn that produced four Test wins, the ineffectiveness of Tuilagi and Vunipola in carrying England over the gain-line will be cause for concern.

In February, as Tuilagi was set to return for England against Wales, Eddie Jones praised the virtues of having the powerful center available and how he could help England’s attack.

“Manu’s a win line accumulator, isn’t he? He wins the win line pretty consistently, he draws defenders where he creates space for other options and he does it better than anyone in the world when he’s at full speed.” speed”.

As it turned out, Tuilagi withdrew late against Wales and ended up missing the entire Six Nations with a hamstring problem and the summer tour of Australia after knee surgery.

However, all the noise from England this autumn has been that Tuilagi is in his best form since 2019 and has not had to miss a single training session. In other words, he was “at full throttle.”

Alex Sanderson, his trainer at Sale Sharks, has in the past described Tuilagi as a “gain toy.” But based on the evidence that Tuilagi took it in the fall, the toy may need some time in the repair shop.

If you look at Tuilagi’s statistical averages per 80 minutes for England going back to 2012, this year he has averaged career lows in meters scored (17.7), meters scored per carry (2.3) and defenders beaten (1 ,1).

Instances of Tuilagi receiving the ball in the phase game against South Africa were rare, but even then he had to work hard to gain ground. Consider here the deep starting position of Tuilagi…

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