Shoulder ok, Tuilagi aims for Lions test selection
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Manu Tuilagi did everything he could against the Melbourne Rebels to prove he’s over his shoulder injury and try to force his way into a British and Irish Lions lineup that is coming off a 23-21 win over Australia in the first test.
He’ll find out Thursday whether that was enough to convince the selectors he’s ready for his first Lions test when head coach Warren Gatland announces his lineup for the second test in Melbourne.
“A lot of us felt it was the last chance for all the lads that didn’t play last Saturday to hold their hands up and do their best for the coaches. We will see if we figure on Saturday,” Tuilagi said after a five-try, 35-0 win over the Rebels in Melbourne on Tuesday night. “We left everything out there, and at the end of the day that is all you can ask or hope for.
“If I get the call for Saturday, I will be ready — there is no question about that. I feel as though I am back to where I was before the injury, so there’s no doubt I am ready to go if selected.”
Ireland veteran O’Driscoll, on his fourth Lions tour, and Wales center Jonathan Davies combined well in the midfield last Saturday against a Wallabies attack that became immediately disjointed when inside center Christian Leali’ifano was carried from the field after just 52 seconds following a collision with Davies.
The return of Tuilagi, who hurt his shoulder at the start of the 10-match tour, offsets the expected loss of Welsh center Jamie Roberts, who injured his hamstring in the tour match against the New South Wales Waratahs on June 15 and is unlikely to be available before the third test on July 6 in Sydney.
England prop Alex Corbisiero is struggling with a calf injury sustained in the first test and Ireland lock Paul O’Connell has already been ruled out of the remainder of the series after breaking his aim in the series-opener.
The Australian injury toll from the brutal opening test is likely to be more extensive, with replacement center Pat McCabe ruled out for the season after fracturing his neck, fullback Berrick Barnes out for at least another test after collecting another head injury before halftime in the first test and centers Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder) and Leali’ifano still in doubt for the second test.
Any lack of cohesion in the Australian midfield could make Tuilagi an even more dangerous proposition, particularly after his powerful runs and offloads created plenty of opportunities for the second-string Lions team against the Rebels.
“The shoulder felt really good,” the 22-year-old Samoa-born England center said. “There are no issues. I was straight into it with the contact. I feel good.
“Saturday is another game and everyone is desperate to be involved. I am no different — I want to play in the test matches.”