REACTION: Manu Tuilagi is playing “at his best” ahead of the World Cup according to Sale boss Alex Sanderson after the powerhouse England centre impressed for the Sharks in their Premiership Final loss to Saracens at Twickenham.
Tuilagi was one of the stars of England’s run to a 2019 World Cup Final, where they were beaten 32-12 by South Africa in Japan and has long been a first-choice selection when fit.
But despite making his Test debut in 2011, a tally of 51 caps is a testament to the injuries that have blighted the 32-year-old’s career.
Tuilagi, who joined northwest club Sale from Leicester just over two years ago, made several trademark charging runs at Twickenham on Saturday although his efforts could not prevent Saracens winning 35-25 as the London side claimed a sixth Premiership title.
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But Sanderson had no doubts Tuilagi was in prime form ahead of this year’s World Cup in France, which starts in September.
“Manu’s playing his best rugby,” said Sanderson. “He’s at his most robust.
“We said this was the aim two-and-a-half years ago for him to be playing his best rugby going into the World Cup and we’ve achieved that.”
Saturday’s match was level at 6-6 when the game was briefly halted after two protestors from the environmental pressure group Just Stop Oil ran onto the field and sprinkled orange power on the playing surface.
The pair, who have since been charged with “aggravated trespass”, did, however, appear to energise a crowd of over 61,000.
Many supporters jeered them off the field after they were tackled by stewards and some even pelted the duo with drink as they were led away down tunnels at Twickenham.
And the volume was maintained as the jeers at the protesters turned to shouts of support for both teams when the game re-started.
Soon afterwards, Saracens scored a penalty try to lead 13-6.
Sale fought back well and were 25-23 ahead with 13 minutes remaining only for Saracens to score two late tries that sealed victory.
Sanderson refused to blame the protest for Sale’s defeat, but he was clearly unhappy with the break in play.
“I am not saying that is the game, but it just shows the intensity of concentration you need to be able to switch off and switch back on – and that [disruption] was certainly something unexpected that could have clouded our concentration,” he said.
Saracens’ success came after a 15-12 defeat by Leicester in last season’s final and was their first major trophy since being relegated from the Premiership for salary-cap breaches three years ago.
“We set out in pre-season to make sure that we didn’t get that feeling again, not throwing a punch in a big game,” said long-serving Saracens fullback Alex Goode.
“We didn’t give the best account of ourselves and [this year] it was a really great example of doing what we’ve done all year and keep playing and keep going.
“We saw some of the best rugby we’ve played all year.”