The secret of Manu Tuilagi’s latest English revival? Chess
Tuilagi has never been too concerned with public perceptions. He openly admits that power is his point of difference, even though he is now a relatively simple 16 stone.
“It’s my job to try to cross that winning line,” Tuilagi said. “You just have to meet great people.”
But what the 30-year-old thinks people underestimate is the amount of planning and preparation that goes into his role. Every Monday, he will begin to analyze that week’s opposition, studying defensive line patterns from set pieces and open play. Tuilagi will also examine how individual players tilt their hips in certain situations. “It’s not just about getting the ball back and running hard,” Tuilagi said. “It’s preparation throughout the week, it’s doing homework, it’s analyzing the opposition and where the opportunities might be.
“Then it’s about running on the right line to close the gap instead of running on a defender. Sometimes you need to get through defenders if they’re getting in your way, but you need to make it easy for yourself to hit a soft shoulder so you can free up your hands for an offload. It’s easier to get through the win line this way. It’s all about timing. Another half-second delay at the back of the scrum or lineout has a big effect. Everything leading up to this point is preparation. When all your preparation is good and everything goes according to plan, that’s probably the most satisfying thing.
Asked to give an example of a plan coming to fruition, Tuilagi picks the try scored by Owen Farrell against Australia at Twickenham in 2018. The scoreline has already been analyzed in depth by my colleague Charlie Morgan where the Wallabies defense was parted by relatively simple, perfectly executed racing lines. Farrell was able to pass virtually intact after Ford brought the ball past Tuilagi who
“We ran a 9-10 and I hit a short line,” Tuilagi said. “It was No. 9 for Fordy and Farrell is at the back. These kind of lines you see a lot. If executed well, you know where you are running and what you are trying to achieve. Most likely, the defender will bite me and then he will open in the back. Also, if that defender comes out the back, you have the option to go up front. That’s what you’re trying to do to defenders. You try to hold them back and make space if they come in. If they get out of the way, you hit short and go through the middle.
Wales know what is coming at Twickenham next week. There will be several plans to undo England’s wrecking ball, but like Fischer, Tuilagi is intent on staying one step ahead.