Inside the Tigers’ Den - Tuilagi needed for Lions decider

Manu Tuilagi, in action for Leicester, should be drafted in by the British and Irish Lions. Tiger Images
Manu Tuilagi, in action for Leicester, should be drafted in by the British and Irish Lions. Tiger Images
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Time to bring out the big guns - and few are bigger than Manu Tuilagi.

With the Lions series against Australia tied at 1-1 the tourist’s head coach Warren Gatland needs to call on his unused power players to get him over the line and clinch a place in rugby history.

Five of Leicester’s six players selected for the British and Irish Lions played a part in the drama in Melbourne on Saturday where the Lions fell agonising short of securing the series win when Adam Ashley Cooper went over the line to score the game’s only try and allow Christian Lealiifano to kick the Wallabies to a tight 16-15 victory.

But it was the one Tiger not in the match day squad who was auspicious by his absence.

Tuilagi watched the match from the stands despite an eye catching performance against the Melbourne Rebels on Tuesday in his return from a shoulder and arm injury.

Before the series and the inevitable injury toll, which has just claimed the Lions captain Sam Warburton who tore his hamstring on Saturday, Tuilagi was touted as the favourite of Leicester’s players to break into the Test side but he has been the only Tiger not to feature at some point against the Wallabies.

Tuilagi is an uncontainable world beater at his best and could re-tip the balance of the midfield battle back in favour of the Lions who have started with Jonathan Davies and Brian O’Driscoll in the first two Tests.

Despite poor some form O’Driscoll is expected to captain the Lions on Saturday which would leave just Davies’ starting spot vulnerable.

Jamie Roberts, the 2009 Man of the Series, is also expected to be in the mix for selection after recovering from injury providing Gatland with a range of power options in his midfield which got out-played in the last game.

The fate of Leicester’s other players will be down to how Gatland decides to approach the final game.

Tom Youngs was powerful in the lose and threw comparatively well at the line outs but his smaller frame saw the pack suffer at scrum time. His brother Ben failed to take his chance at scrum half and never really got the back line purring however both men will likely be involved in some fashion next week.

Gatland would be wise to opt for Tom Croft in the back row. The flanker provides a reliable line out option, which would have been valuable on Saturday, and is a more attacking option to Dan Lydiate.

Geoff Parling was unspectacular but solid in his work in the second row in his first Test start for the Lions and should also be involved for the deciding game of the series.

Dan Cole repaired his reputation as one of the game’s best scrummagers with a strong 22 minute display to shore up a shakey set piece however the Tigers tight head is not at his indomitable best.

Whoever plays the Lions still have a wonderful opportunity to claim their first series win since 1997 against a Wallabies side which has shown remarkable character to overcome their shortfall in quality.

All eyes in the rugby world will be on Sydney on Saturday for what promises to be an epic decider.