Who is the next English Manu Tuilagi? Six Premiership contenders to boost Eddie Jones’ midfield
Replacing Manu Tuilagi, as you’ve probably figured out from watching England in recent years, isn’t easy. Their best performances almost always come with him on the sidelines, and their worst games often without him.
And yet it seems almost absurd that there isn’t anyone willing to be plucked from the Gallagher Premiership to replicate Tuilagi’s demolition job on opposition defences. Maybe there is simply no alternative.
As discussed already this fall, gain line breakers can be found just as easily by selecting the correct back and fender rows. But England simply looked better under Eddie Jones when Tuilagi was there to punch holes in his midfield, as did Ireland with Bundee Aki and France with Jonathan Danty. Wales are desperate for Willis Halaholo to return to form for similar reasons.
Finding a replacement isn’t as easy as looking at height and weight charts. Tuilagi is 6-foot-1 and 17 stone tall, and while other players may possess similar or even taller measurements, there is a difference between being tall and being able to instantly generate the same explosive power that Tuilagi possesses when He is healthy.
Harlequins’ exceptional Andre Esterhuizen is arguably the best center in the country and, before you ask, he’s capped by South Africa and has no English ancestry.
Below, Telegraph Sport go over some possible alternatives, from an admittedly shallow pool, to adding some push into the England midfield. All metrics taken from Premiership Rugby website.
Height and width: 6 feet 6 inches, 16th 9 pounds
England Caps: 1
The more realistic option, given that he was part of Jones’ squad both in the fall and during the Six Nations. Atkinson is a much more subtle player than his frame suggests, and that works in his favor.
Take this try he scored against Leicester Tigers at the start of the season. Due to Atkinson’s ability as a distributor, the dummy really works, giving him enough time to then get through a tackle from one of the league’s top defenders in Tommy Renell to score.