Eddie Jones believes Manu Tuilagi can “demolish” the All Blacks and branded Leicester’s wrecking-ball centre worth every ounce of effort poured into rebuilding his injury-hit England career.
Tuilagi has played just 20 minutes of Test rugby since Jones took the England helm in December 2015, with the 26-year-old beset by injuries in the last two years.
Tuilagi has suffered serious groin and knee problems, but has been included in England’s 37-man training squad for a three-day training camp that starts on Saturday.
Tuilagi proved pivotal to England’s 38-21 win over New Zealand at Twickenham in the 2012 autumn series – and current boss Jones has backed the Samoa-born midfielder to hit back to those heights despite his injury woes.
“I caught up with Manu before the tour, we went to a cafe in Leicester,” Jones said.
“We’re confident he’s moving in the right direction, but he’s still a hell of a long way away from playing Test rugby.
“We’ll just have a look at him at the camp and take it from there.
“I’ve got no idea where he is really until we see him.
“But I do know he can demolish the All Blacks, so he’s worth time, he’s worth effort and worth a lot of care.
“Manu’s just got to get fit and healthy.
“And each day that can change, you can wake up and something hurts that didn’t hurt the previous day.
“The more he works hard and diligently, the more chance he has of playing.
“It’s nice to see him back training and back into it.
“He was a player that demolished New Zealand and we need those kinds of players.
“If he can get himself fit, he can definitely make a strong return. If his motivation and desire’s right, he can be an outstanding player for us and add to the depth of the squad.”
Eight of England’s British and Irish Lions players will miss the three-day training camp as they continue their rest period after the drawn series in New Zealand.
Head coach Jones vowed he will happily rest some of his top stars in the autumn Tests against Australia, Argentina and Samoa.
Jones threw out a mild jibe against back-to-back world champions New Zealand, insisting the All Blacks are struggling for strength in depth.
The Australian head coach predicted England will have to be “bulletproof” in order to win the World Cup, claiming his side must still fight hard to move ahead of the world’s number-one ranked side New Zealand.
“We are definitely ready to rest players in the autumn, there are ongoing discussions about that,” said Jones.
“We’ll look at each player, see what condition they are in then work out who needs to play and doesn’t need to play.
“So for the young players at this camp it’s a great opportunity to put down a marker early.
“I think the Argentina tour definitely allowed us to develop the squad.
“Some players came through that we knew about but probably didn’t realise just how close they were to being real contenders for the World Cup squad.
“The next 18 months is crucial in us finalising our World Cup squad.”