It is a badly-kept secret that some players have made a point of being spotted at French clubs in an attempt to boost their wages. Brian O’Driscoll is on record as saying he made sure he was seen at a Biarritz match with the club president when he had no intention of joining, but it had the desired effect when it came to his next Leinster deal. For Manu Tuilagi though, the dilemma was genuine, he was really close to joining Racing so I’m just thrilled he is staying at Leicester.
I was in a similar position nine years ago. I had an offer from Racing that would have made me the highest-paid wing in the world at that time, and it is so easy to be seduced by the money. I was matter of fact about it and I wrote down a list of the top-10 things that were important to me and ultimately there were more draws to staying at home than to go away.
For Manu, it would have been a huge decision. He was offered around £800,000 a year and while he has hardly been offered pennies at Leicester, that sort of figure would have made him think about how that can set him and his young family up for when he retires. But he has decided to stay at a club who have invested a huge amount into him, they have had to stand by him through his injuries, through his lack of game time, and it is a symbiotic relationship.
The important thing from a player’s perspective is being at a club that understands you when you have a long-standing medical history such as Manu’s. on Saturday he is in the team again, this is the first time he has started all five matches in a Six Nations, and that is huge credit to Leicester. Eddie Jones has even made a point of commending what the club have done for him.
We’ll see Manu at full-tilt on Saturday but we won’t see Joe Cokanasiga. It’s really tough on him, he’s a young player who has only really had positive influences on the international game; he’s scored tries, he’s done everything he can and it’s tough to accept missing out, especially when you’ve got all this external noise and comparisons to great players of our game. But I completely agree with Eddie’s selection. It could well be a championship decider so he has gone back to the back three that did so well against Ireland.
As fans and the general public, we live in a world of instant gratification, we want everything now, we want to see the next star, the next hero. We get excited and we want those guys to be elevated on to that stage very quickly. We want everything instantly. I compare it to watching a film on a train, it starts buffering and that circle on the screen is so frustrating. We’ve seen a bit of what Joe can do, now he’s buffering and inevitably people are frustrated he’s not playing. That’s the perspective of a punter but it’s very different for a coach and Eddie has a pretty decent track record with bringing through youngsters.
He’s also the first player Eddie has come out and says he wants to take to the World Cup. There are some definite shoo-ins for the squad but considering Joe is not in the squad on Saturday, that’s some statement. There are countless examples of young England players thrust into the limelight early – I think of Mat Tait – and they haven’t handled it well. Eddie wants Joe to be in a place where he’s ready to set the World Cup on fire. I like that man-management.
Even without Joe, the job is pretty simple for England. They have to beat Scotland and they have to score four tries. For England to put together a complete, disciplined performance you can’t have those external distractions.
I remember being in a situation in the Heineken Cup whereby Harlequins had to win at Connacht and Gloucester had to beat Toulouse. Reflecting on it, our heads were half at Kingsholm and half at the Sportsground in Connacht. As it happened we lost our game and Gloucester beat Toulouse. They did us a favour but because we were not as mentally disciplined as we should have been and we weren’t fully focused on our task we let outside influences affect our performance and it let us down.
And regardless of what happens in Cardiff, there is extra on the match at Twickenham. Put simply, England don’t like Scotland and Scotland don’t like England. It’s the Calcutta Cup match, add in the events of last season and what happened in the tunnel, to quote Eddie Jones, England had their pants pulled down.
England v Scotland is all about passion, aggression, physicality and needle. Are the England players hurting? Yes. Have they forgotten about last year? Absolutely not. No one likes noisy neighbours. England will have a bad taste in their mouth about how they effectively got bullied. There is an extra spice to this week but I haven’t remembered many when there haven’t been.
I have mixed memories of playing Scotland. In my first match against them I made a try-saving tackle on Thom Evans and scored my first England try and I think that probably got me on the Lions tour in 2009. Then my last match against them was the draw at Murrayfield in 2010. I got knocked out tackling Kelly Brown five metres out – I had to make an effective tackle, a passive tackle and he would have scored – and had to be taken off on a stretcher. Ben Youngs came on to the wing, I don’t think he enjoyed that. They are turbulent affairs but I love the contest against Scotland. We’ve been enjoying the verbals and after this week of all weeks I’m looking forward to enjoying some rugby now.