CHRIS FOY: Why the Lions must find a place for ‘scary’ Manu Tuilagi

Manu Tuilagi should be going on the Lions tour and Warren Gatland will surely find some way to call up a player whose very presence will raise morale within the British and Irish squad.

In case anyone has forgotten what an impact the 30-year-old England centre can have, he provided a timely reminder on Friday night.

When he was unleashed from Sale’s bench they were under the cosh against Bristol, but his arrival ignited a stunning turn-around. The home team had more belief and became more assertive, while the home fans became louder. Tuilagi changed the mood. He can do the same for the Lions.

On Friday night, Manu Tuilagi gave Lions selectors another reason to select him for the tour

On Friday night, Manu Tuilagi gave Lions selectors another reason to select him for the tour 

The 'Chief' came off the bench for Sale against Bristol Bears and inspired a 22-21 victory

The 'Chief' came off the bench for Sale against Bristol Bears and inspired a 22-21 victory

The ‘Chief’ came off the bench for Sale against Bristol Bears and inspired a 22-21 victory

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson joked about ‘the aura of Manu Tuilagi’ but then spoke about how he rallies those around him.

The man they call ‘Chief’ is a popular figure and a positive influence. There is an infectious exuberance about everything he does. The grin rarely fades and on Friday he was leaping around after helping the Sharks pack claim a lineout-drive try.

‘Everyone knows he is one of the world’s best players, but he’s just a really lovely bloke,’ said Sanderson.

Earlier in the week, he had talked about the shape Tuilagi is in after spending eight months recovering from a serious achilles injury.

Tuilagi is showing signs he is back to his best after eight months out with an achilles issue

Tuilagi is showing signs he is back to his best after eight months out with an achilles issue

Tuilagi is showing signs he is back to his best after eight months out with an achilles issue

He called him a ‘bull’ and said he had been so ‘scary’ in training he had to tell him to take it easy.

Tuilagi remains a rare force of nature, who inspires the men alongside him and spreads fear in the opposition. He has cast spells on the All Blacks and all-comers in his time.

He looms so large in the minds of defenders that it creates space for others — another reason why players are so happy to have him with them.

Tuilagi not only provides power but allows space to appear for another players in his team

Tuilagi not only provides power but allows space to appear for another players in his team

Tuilagi not only provides power but allows space to appear for another players in his team

Despite so many injuries, Tuilagi is still in love with the game. He just wants the ball and he wants to make dents in defences. When he is properly fit, he can still be nigh-on unstoppable.

Gatland should be mindful of the likely ripple effect if he can contrive to summon the Anglo-Samoan midfield wrecking ball.

The player’s upbeat manner will lift spirits within a Lions squad forced to operate in a bubble — and his ball-carrying potency could transform the tourist’ back line. If they want to fight fire with fire in the face of Springbok physicality, he is just the weapon they need.

Increase the Lions’ squad size if that is what it takes. Just pick him.

 The return of crowds is creating a carnival climax to the domestic season. 

There is a sense that fans who are fortunate enough to claim the limited tickets recognise the obligation to make their presence felt on behalf of all those still being denied entry. 

The return of fans to stadiums this weekend has caused a brilliant atmosphere at grounds

The return of fans to stadiums this weekend has caused a brilliant atmosphere at grounds

The return of fans to stadiums this weekend has caused a brilliant atmosphere at grounds

Sale only had a couple of thousand fans behind them at the AJ Bell Stadium but the atmosphere was raucously partisan. 

And at the Stoop on Saturday, Joe Marler could barely hear the questions in a post-match interview over the sound of celebrating Quins supporters. 

The re-opening of stands is generating a welcome fervour. Long may it continue.

High drama in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman over the weekend as an Australian side finally won a game against a New Zealand team. 

Queensland Reds managed to beat the visiting Waikato Chiefs 40-34 in Townsville, to briefly interrupt Kiwi dominance of the mismatched event. 

Queensland Reds became the first Australian side to beat a New Zealand team in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman over the weekend

Queensland Reds became the first Australian side to beat a New Zealand team in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman over the weekend

Queensland Reds became the first Australian side to beat a New Zealand team in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman over the weekend

However, yesterday’s win for the Otago Highlanders over Melbourne Rebels left the tally of victories between the country’s franchises standing at 14-1 in favour of the New Zealanders. 

No wonder they have been casting doubt on the tournament’s value. 

Shaunagh Brown savoured an important milestone for Harlequins and women’s rugby after victory in the Allianz Premier 15s Final at Kingsholm on Sunday. 

The prop was named player of the match as Quins — losing finalists in the previous two seasons — beat title holders Saracens 25-17 thanks to two tries from Amy Cokayne and five penalties from Lagi Tuima. 

Shaunagh Brown was player of the match as Harlequins won the Allianz Premier 15s final

Shaunagh Brown was player of the match as Harlequins won the Allianz Premier 15s final

Shaunagh Brown was player of the match as Harlequins won the Allianz Premier 15s final

‘It must mean a lot because I’m crying and I don’t really cry,’ said Brown. ‘As they say, third time lucky, but there was no luck involved. It’s been hard work all season.’ 

It was a positive showcase of the league in front of 2,000 spectators and Brown added: ‘This isn’t just about rugby, it’s about women’s sport. It’s about putting us on a platform and knowing we can do it. 

‘I challenge anyone to say women’s rugby isn’t good enough, because we are.’ 

Sale’s win over Bristol confirmed their place in the Premiership play-offs for the first time since they won the title in 2006 and the latest evidence suggests the Cheshire club should be regarded as genuine contenders to win the league.

Their first-half shut-out of the Bears at the AJ Bell Stadium was a defensive masterclass of tenacity, ferocity and unity. Director of rugby Alex Sanderson called it an ‘epic, epic, extraordinary effort’.

Sale Sharks beat Bristol on Friday night to secure their place in the Premiership play-offs

Sale Sharks beat Bristol on Friday night to secure their place in the Premiership play-offs

Sale Sharks beat Bristol on Friday night to secure their place in the Premiership play-offs

Sale’s ambush of the league leaders, masterminded by defence coach Mike Forshaw, was the sort of performance which wins high-stakes, knockout matches.

In contrast, Harlequins qualified for the play-offs by running riot against Bath but their defensive lapses are a glaring issue. Conceding 33 tries in five matches suggests vulnerability which is likely to be exposed, while Marcus Smith cannot afford to miss five shots at goal, as he did on Saturday.

Bristol and Exeter remain favourites for a showdown in the final but whichever of them has to face Sale will be wary of their resilience and power, especially if Jono Ross, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lood de Jager become available in the coming weeks as expected.

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