RUGBY: Manu Tuilagi on track for derby return for Leicester Tigers
Be prepared folks - it looks like Manu Tuilagi will be back for the derby.
The injured England centre warmed up with Leicester on Sunday ahead of their 25-6 victory over Harlequins on Sunday.
Tigers face Bristol on Friday night, where the Samoan-born wrecking ball could feature but if Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill is to be believed he will be back before the end of the month.
That’s an exciting prospect for Tigers fans and coaches who have not seen him in action since the opening day of the season when Leicester beat Gloucester 38-31, crossing the line for a try.
Cockerill said: “You saw him before the game, he looks sharp. I am just waiting for the medics to say he is good to go.
“We are hoping within the next couple of weeks he will be in the 23. It would be nice would not it?”
With Northampton the next visitors to Welford Road, on December 3, a bit of extra fire power in the Leicester midfield would not go amiss. However Welshman Owen Williams and Australian Peter Betham did a fine job against a like-for-like Quins midfield who were missing Welsh international Jamie Roberts.
But the story of the day on Sunday was at 10.
With the Autumn internationals taking place this was one of the best fly half shoot outs on offer in the Aviva Premiership last weekend. It was the quality of Kiwi ten Nick Evans, whose best days are now behind him but remains a class act, against former England international Freddie Burns who is back in scintillating form. And he looked good again on Sunday, scoring 20 points with the boot and then creating a try for Owen Williams with an audacious chip kick.
It was Burns’ adventurous play at its best, using the penalty advantage to try something a bit special.
In fact his all round kicking was very good at Welford Road, kicking Leicester deep into Quin’s territory all afternoon and using the wet grass to put the ball in behind the visitor’s defence.
Although the fly-half might have to look out as one of the best kicks of the game came from number eight Lachlan McCaffrey, who hacked on a nice touch finder after a turn over deep in their own half.
Talking about Burns, Cockerill said: “He was good all round.
“He is working hard with Geordan (Murphy) and Aaron (Mauger) about understanding when to run and when to kick and is improving all the time.
Talking about the team, he said: “We were playing within ourselves and we needed to up the ante a bit.
“The first half was a bit flat. We did not execute our set piece well. There were two or three opportunities from scrums and line outs when we did not deliver the ball. In the second half we took the game to them and controlled Quins well and they did not look like posing a threat.
“The forwards were better. We carried the ball better. There was more urgency and if we can get that every week we will be in the mix because we have some good players.”
A big reason that Leicester got going in the second half was a switch at scrum half in the 56th minute.
Cockerill opted for 24-year-old Kiwi Jono Kitto at scrum half from the start, giving him just his seventh start for the club since joining in the summer of 2015.
And while Kitto did not make any significant errors, his hesitancy at the breakdown slowed the Leicester attack, and allowed Harlequins to get organised in defence.
Perhaps it was a ploy to play a more structured, slow style of game against Quins, who often flourish in a fast paced match.
However when Sam Harrison came on there was marked improvement in Leicester’s game as they suddenly looked a far livelier side.
The victory leaves Leicester still in fourth spot in the league, unable to reel in Saracens, Bath or Wasps, although they closed the gap on the latter who lost to Gloucester.
Once again Leicester had both Ben Youngs and Dan Cole in action for England at Twickenham on Saturday as the national team thrashed Fiji 58-15.
Neither Tiger were at their absolute best at the weekend but they played their part in a strong team performance in a side who are getting stronger even game. That is really something considering they remain unbeaten in 2016 having won 11 games straight under head coach Eddie Jones.
The impressive thing about this England side, who scored nine tries, through Jonathan Joseph (2), Semesa Rokoduguni (2), Joe Launchbury (2), Elliot Daly, former Oakham School boy Alex Goode and Teimana Harrison, is that there is now an inevitability about them winning.
Up next are Argentina followed by Australia, the same day as the East Midlands derby. The clash in fixtures should give Leicester an added edge in the derby with Northampton missing arguably more key players than the Tigers.
They will be without Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and potentially either Tom Woods or Harrison. As ever it will certainly be a must see match and another likely sell out at Welford Road.