Manu Tuilagi set to return and WILL be right for Lions, Warren Gatland is told

Manu Tuilagi will make his long-awaited return to action in a fortnight with Sale promising to have him primed to tour with the Lions.

Warren Gatland names his 36-man Lions squad tomorrow and is expected to take a leap of faith by including England’s wrecking ball centre.

Sale boss Alex Sanderson last night moved to assure Gatland that Tuilagi will rediscover his best form in time to make an impact in South Africa.

Sanderson said: “I have no doubt that Manu will get back to playing his best rugby. He will find form, that is the kind of calibre of player he is.

“You see him around and it's like: "It's Manu." You step back and look how people are talking about him, it is 'Manu the legend'.”

Tuilagi has not played since tearing his Achilles tendon playing for Sale against Northampton in September.

In his absence, England’s Six Nations title defence turned into a humiliation. Without his cutting edge they slumped to their worst championship finish for 45 years.

Gatland knows that to trouble the world champions on their own patch he needs power and punch in midfield and that nobody does it better than a fit Tuilagi.

"At his best he is one of the world's best players and we will get him back to his best,” pledged Sanderson.

“I love the man. Some people get injured and never come back the same player – it takes a bit out of them, it takes a bit off them, they lose a bit of that motivation.

"If it was about just coming back and earning a bit of crust and just seeing out the last few years, I don't think he would be here.

“He would be somewhere else where they would pay him more money and have an easier ride.

"Manu wants to come back and be brilliant again. If I were to back anyone to come back and be at his best, it would be him."

Whilst Tuilagi awaits the call, England team mate Ellis Genge has resigned himself to missing out having not been one of 50 players to receive a ‘save the date’ email for the upcoming tour.

Lions legends Sam Warburton and Brian O’Driscoll both say they would take the abrasive Tiger to South Africa.

But the in-form Leicester prop says he won’t be sat in front of the TV tomorrow awaiting his Lions fate.

“I’m getting my carpets cleaned on Thursday and the TV’s in that room so I won’t be in there,” he said.

Although flattered by the influential backing, he added: “It means f*** all unless you get picked, doesn’t it? My old man had me as captain but he doesn’t pick the squad. It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks."

Front row selection is a real focal point given the way South Africa took apart England’s scrum in the 2019 World Cup final.

With that in mind O’Driscoll says he would pick Genge ahead of Mako Vunipola.

“Against South Africa you’ve got to meet brute force with brute force and nasty edge with nasty edge,” said the 2005 captain and four-time tourist.

“Genge just has that edge and you need that because you can’t be soft against a South African team.”

Two-time Lions captain Sam Warburton believes Genge could have a similar impact to the one Kyle Sinckler had in New Zealand in 2017.

“I like his personality and I think Gatland will too,” said the Welshman. “Genge may not be a Test starter but he has great potential to come off the bench.”

Leicester have already seen two Lions ‘withdrawals’ with coach Steve Borthwick and scrum-half Ben Youngs each making themselves unavailable for the trip.

Despite being father to a seven-month old son, Genge says his partner and family would understand if he was asked and accepted.

“I would be willing to make that sacrifice if I was given the opportunity,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-career thing.”

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