Manu Tuilagi is set to end his eight-month absence from rugby by featuring for Sale Sharks against Bristol on Friday. The England and British & Irish Lions centre has not played since rupturing an achilles tendon in September but his club coach Alex Sanderson says his player is now fully fit and looking “scary” in training.
The Lions head coach Warren Gatland will be among those hoping that Tuilagi hits the ground running against the Premiership leaders with the tour party due to depart for South Africa at the end of next month. Tuilagi did not make the squad but injuries could yet open the door.
Sanderson may well start the 29-year-old on the bench but is confident the ex-Leicester player will make an instant impact.
“Manu’s in great shape … he looks massive,” said Sanderson. “Not out of shape massive, just strong as a bull. I had to stop him running because he was just running through the lads in the live tackling. It’s really exciting to see. He looked scary out there, scarily powerful.”
While Bristol will potentially be fielding their own midfield colossus, Semi Radradra, Sale are looking to Tuilagi to provide fresh impetus as they continue to chase a home semi-final in next month’s play-offs. “I couldn’t hold him back if I wanted to – the guy’s too strong,” joked Sanderson. “We haven’t held him back, once he hit all his markers we just let him go. We are just conscious, because he’s brilliant, of chucking him in at the deep end and overloading him. He’s had a lower-body injury so there’s an increased time where you have to get in more fitness and rugby conditioning.”
Northampton also say they expect their injured Lion, Courtney Lawes, to return within the next week or two, with the fly-half Dan Biggar definitely fit to face Wasps this Saturday. Bath, however, have confirmed their Scotland centre Cameron Redpath has ruptured an ACL ligament for the second time in his career and is now facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines. The luckless Redpath, who was injured against Sale this month, was outstanding in Scotland’s Calcutta Cup win at Twickenham in February but the 21-year-old missed the rest of the Six Nations championship with a neck problem.